Will the grief ever end?
I’m often asked this when I work with a client who is in the midst of dealing with an overwhelming loss. Loss arrives in so many different forms, including the death of a loved one, or the end of an important relationship, or the realization that life is not going in the direction that you had hoped or planned. There are so many experiences of loss that can result in grief, and the deep sadness that follows loss can be all encompassing. This natural emotional response may also show up in waves of disbelief, shock, anger, guilt and confusion. It’s common for grief to disrupt your physical health as well, making it difficult to sleep, eat, focus your thoughts, or to engage with others. Fear may set in, creating a kind of inertia and it can feel never ending
How do I begin to cope with my loss?
Grief is complicated, and it demands your respect. Respect for the loss, as well as respect for yourself and all that you’re feeling. Your loss is a personal experience, that others who are close to you may or may not understand. Friends, family, and colleagues sometimes say things that aren’t at all helpful when you’re grieving. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve or to experience loss. It’s a normal part of the human condition and it’s important to grieve the loss of a person, animal, relationship, or life experience that was significant to you. Finding healthy ways to honor your loss and to cope with the pain that you are experiencing is necessary. Sometimes the best way to begin to cope with your loss is to give yourself permission to simply be, and to let go of any expectations of what you should be feeling or doing. The adage that time heals all wounds may not be applicable in this moment, but with the passing of hours, days, weeks, months, and years, your heart will likely hurt a little less. There may even come a time when you’ll be able to find joy again and celebrate your life instead of mourning your loss. For now, just consider taking the utmost, loving care of yourself. Ask yourself what that looks like for today. Perhaps a hot shower and a cup of tea. Maybe you could put on some upbeat music or take yourself out into the sunshine for just a few minutes. It could be that taking care of yourself looks like asking a reliable friend to join you for a walk with a promise to talk about anything other than your loss. It might look like treating yourself to a massage if you’re missing the touch of your loved one. It may look like volunteering a few hours of your day to help someone else that needs a hand. Healthy coping means connection to self and to others. Putting one foot in front of the other, then repeating that simple set of steps again and again is how you begin to cope.
What about all those stages of grief?
The author and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the concept of the “five stages of grief” in 1969. The stages that she identified included denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Since then, the understanding of grief in stages has been expanded. It’s accepted that not everyone passes through each of those stages, and if they do, there may not be a linear order to that experience. Grief can feel chaotic, and there is no timetable to reaching acceptance of your loss. In 2000, Pauline Boss PhD, introduced the term “ambiguous loss” after years of study where there is no closure with some losses. Boss first applied this term to families that lost loved ones in war, when there was the death of a soldier, but no remains were returned from battle. This type of loss is often described when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, or an accident happens that fundamentally changes the person you love. Ambiguous loss can also happen when a pet goes missing and doesn’t return, or when the person you had a close relationship with ghosts you. When there is no closure to your loss, questions about what happened and why, might linger longer. As a former Stephen Minister, and through my own experience of grief, as well as by learning through my clients’ grief, I’ve come to acknowledge that there are three definitive stages that follow loss: the unfathomable beginning, the messy middle, and then the resolve to carry on.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with loss, please consider talking to a therapist. There are times in life that it’s especially helpful to have someone walk beside you on the path of life, and this is one of those times. You don’t have to do this alone. Grief is hard, and therapy can help. Call or email me for a free consultation.
Katey Villalon, LMFT