Grief and Loss
Grief and loss go closely hand in hand. When you lose someone close through death or the end of a friendship it is common to go through a period of mourning or grief. The loss of a pet can send you into a state of grief also. The same goes for an important object that held special meaning or significance - such as an irreplaceable heirloom or photograph. Learning that you have a terminal illness may also bring on a grieving process of the life that will soon be over.
Victims of fire or flood who lose their homes and possessions, understandably go through a period of grief before regaining enough energy to start again and rebuild.
If you lose a partner, child or close friend it can take years to recover and move on with your life. It often involves coming to terms with a change in your identity. What if after a long marriage, your spouse passes away suddenly? One day you are a part of a couple and then suddenly you find yourself single - in a state of confusion wondering who you are now.
Coping with Grief
Death is the most significant cause of grief:
- It is final
- It confronts our own mortality
Some points to consider:
- Grieving is important for healing the wound of separation.
- There is no consolation in hearing that there is always someone worse off than you. Pain is a relative experience - if I have a migraine then it does not make me feel better to imagine that someone might have a worse one.
- Other people may feel discomfort with your grief. They may try and offer platitudes and cliches such as "it must have been God's will". This is just their attempt at dealing with their discomfort around not knowing how to help you.
- Some well-meaning people believe that it is bad to be upset and will do their best to cheer you up. This will get in the way of you expressing your feelings which need to be expressed.
- Find some other outlet to express your feelings in a way that works for you. It is normal and healthy to express intense and painful emotions relating to loss.
- The feelings you have are your feelings - they are normal and an essential part of the healing process. Some of these may be shock, sadness, anger, guilt, depression and despair, as well as relief, hope and acceptance.
- By not expressing your feelings there is a risk of more intense reactions later on. These may include muscle tension, physical illness and other emotional difficulties created by energy blocks in the body.
- The painful feelings will diminish with time. If they remain intense and prolonged, then professional help may be required.
- A total absence of grief - when a person carries on as if nothing has happened - is not a healthy sign and may also indicate the need for professional help.
What is normal grief?
A Summary from: Mal McKissock, Coping with Grief (Sydney: The Austalian Broadcasting Corporation, 1992).
The First Day:
- Feelings of numbness - both emotional and physical
- May last from several minutes, several hours or even days
- It is important that you are in the company of someone who is able to understand your responses and allow you to do whatever you need.
- This initial period eventually gives way to overwhelming feelings.
- The best way for a healthy outcome is to give way to emotion. Forget about self control at all times.
- It is not advisable to take drugs or indulge in alcohol at this time. The use of sedatives etc suppresses reactions and leads to greater difficulty later.
- In the first couple of hours and days, you may experience numbness, intense sadness, anger, guilt, disbelief, and confusion.
- Physical reactions may also occur - loss of appetite, nausea, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness. All of these are normal though devastating.
The Third Day:
- Reality starts to set in and often coincides with the funeral.
- Numbness may start to wear off and pain may increase.
The Seventh Day:
- Loneliness, isolation and despair often appear at this time.
- One moment you may feel reasonable and then, all of a sudden, a black cloud may descend. This often happens without warning.
Four to Six Weeks Later
- The defence mechanisms, the body'sprotective devices, start to wear off and feelings may be more free to come to the surface. Reactions that did not occur earlier are possible at this stage.
- Once again - talking about your feelings helps.
"I'm Fine" and Other Nonsense
Much of the incorrect information we learned and practised may have convinced us not to show our real feelings at any cost. We may have been taught to bury any feelings that dealt with sadness. We may have been taught: "Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone." This and hundreds of other clichés about dealing with sad feelings taught us to lie about how we felt. And even the lying was protected under other mis-information such as: "Don't burden others with your feelings."
How often have you lied about your feelings when asked the question, "How are you?"
How often have you said, "Fine thanks!" when you were not fine at all?
Every time we lie to others we lie to ourselves. Our subconscious mind hears the lie and continues to deny he feelings generated by the initial event. Unresolved losses are cumulative, and cumulatively negative. Time does not heal the pain caused by loss and neither does lying about our feelings.
A major key to recovery is to process every feeling in the moment you have it. It does not require any special skills to tell the truth about what you are feeling.
For example: "How are you?" ... "I'm having a tough day, thanks for asking." Notice that the answer is truthful but does not invite any help or advice. It also has the capacity of serving notice that you are not on top of your game and the other party can respond accordingly.
When you say, "I'm fine" but you're not, you have sent a very confusing message.
QUESTION: Sometimes I tell people, "I'm fine" and they don't believe me. Why not?
ANSWER: Approximately 20% of your ability to communicate is verbal, leaving about 80% as non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes tone of voice as well as facial and body signals. When our verbal and non-verbal signals do not match, most people will respond to the non-verbal. So when you lie, most people can SEE it!
Killer Cliches About Loss
"Time heals all wounds."
- While recovery from loss does take some time, it need not take as much time as you might imagine.
- Recovery is totally individual. There is no absolute time frame. Sometimes in an attempt to conform to other people's time frames, we do ourselves great harm.
"You should be over it by now."
- It is bad enough that well-meaning, well intentioned friends attack us with killer clichés, but then we start picking on ourselves. We start believing that we are defective or somehow deficient because we haven't recovered yet.
- Both these clichés imply that non-action will have some therapeutic or recovery value. That by waiting, and letting some time pass, we will heal.
"You have to keep busy."
- Many people experiencing loss follow this incorrect advice and work harder than ever. They fill their time with endless tasks and chores. At the end of any given day, asked how they feel, invariably they report that their heart still feels broken; that all they accomplished by staying busy was to become exhausted.
- Although recovery from loss does take some time, it is the actions within time that lead to successful recovery.
Source and further information:
Five Stages of grief - proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
There are five stages of normal grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.”
- Denial and isolation
These five stages may not necessarily be experienced in order and can take varying degrees of time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and it will take as long as it takes.
Grief - The Unwelcome Guest (A Personal Story)
When grief comes to visit it is like an unwelcome guest who comes to stay with a whole lot of baggage in tow. And like a lot of uninvited and unwelcome guests there is no definitive period of time that they will be hanging around.
This unwelcome guest can make a real mess of your life or it can provide an opportunity to re-evaluate life and evolve to a greater sense of spiritual awareness. Emotions you thought only happened to other people may take hold like there is no tomorrow. These emotions follow a similar pattern while at the same time are experienced by each individual in their own way.
For instance, when I lost my father, I was stunned by the complete dysfunction that came over me.
Here was an elderly man who had lived a full and productive life who was suffering badly through the final stage of dementia. He had pneumonia and life was just too much of a struggle. Passing over out of this carnal cage of torment was a blessing to him. So why on earth was a rational, grown woman and professional counsellor doing losing the plot like I did?
It appears that there is no immunity from grief. Like all emotions, it is not subject to rational thinking or level of intelligence. When emotions are in full swing, rational thinking is not an accessible commodity. With grief, it is important to just let it run its course however long that may take. The journey can be long or short depending on the significance of the loss and willingness to surrender and feel the pain appropriately.
This may mean a lot of crying, a lot of talking, a lot of walking, a lot of remembering, a lot of sleeping, a lot of nothing........ a lot of whatever it takes to work through the pain in your own way.
Failure to work through grief appropriately results in further problems down the track both physically and psychologically. Well meaning friends and work colleagues are not doing you a favour if they rally around to try and cheer you up, or hurry you along. Comments such as "aren't you over it yet?" are not at all helpful.
It is important that you let family, friends and anyone else know what you are needing. That might mean being left alone or it might mean having someone to listen - over and over again if necessary. This is where counselling can come in handy when the friends run out of patience!
The most important thing to remember is that there is no "normal" timeframe that you can expect to endure the dark night that is grief. Anything is normal. This is your process and no-one has the right to tell you how to do it properly or how long it will take.
To quote Thomas Moore in his book, Dark Nights of the Soul:
When you have lost someone close to you, and friends try to comfort you in your grief, you know, but they don't, that what you are experiencing is beyond grief. You sense in your body and in the fullness of your emotion a great rupture in the world you have known, an irrevocable emptiness that is not just to be felt but completely absorbed if you are to go on.
How can counselling help you if you are suffering from grief or loss?
Christine Bennett and Emily Dylan offer help through counselling and psychotherapy for people suffering from grief and loss.