Good Grief: Overcoming Loss

Good Grief: Overcoming Loss

By: Dr. Rick Petronella

For many, this will be the first time in over a year that you feel hope again. If we choose hope and we choose to be even better because of this COVID challenge, then maybe we can recognize that we have grown in strength and character over the past year.

Grief is about love and loss. We grieve for the loved ones whom we have lost but hold the love we have for them deep in our hearts.

Sometimes to, we grieve for things that never were: the plans we made, the hopes we had, and the expectation that didn’t get fulfilled.

Grief can help us grow or it can leave us stuck. If we let grief run its course, it will eventually grow into understanding and acceptance. Scars will remain but they will be healed. Through these experiences our understanding of ourselves can grow deeper. We will be wiser. If we fight grief and pretend it doesn’t exist, it remains an open sore rather than a healed scar.  

Through this past year with COVID we have grieved over many kinds of losses. We have grieved deaths. We have mourned material losses, jobs we didn’t get, favorite possessions we no longer have. We may also grieve over physical losses such as the loss of our strength, vision for our lives or opportunities we once had that are no longer available.

We usually think of grief as something bad, something to be avoided. Who needs it?  But we all need to grieve. It is a healing process. If we don’t grieve our losses, we can’t grow in health. Our emotions will not be able to bear the weight. They will remain fragile and give under strain.

People who don’t work through grief suffer from emotional and physical problems. For example, they may develop a pattern of avoidance and denial – trying to dodge their problems rather than solving them. They often have trouble feeling emotions, hence they become cold, insensitive and bitter. Others may become more dependent on other people, feeling they can’t cope on their own.

Struggling with drug and alcohol abuse can also be a way of trying to cope with unresolved grief.

Recovery is a process of continually moving forward. If we do not move through our grief, we tend to fall into self-destructive patterns. That is why it is so important to grieve our losses. Remember, the process of grief is the process of letting go. We learn how to let it go. We do not want to ignore our losses nor do we want to let them take over. We come to terms with it and let it heal. I use a phrase often and that is “we must give ourselves permission to not have it together.”

In doing this we are more realistic about how we are really feeling. In turn, we can attend to ourselves in a more realistic way and not repress our emotions, But instead, allow them to more naturally move through the healing process. 

In the early stages of grief, we can often feel numb for an extended period of time. It may be difficult to identify or understand why we feel a certain way. We may find ourselves on the verge of tears, or even becoming angry for no apparent reason.

With time, honesty, and allowing ourselves to grieve our losses, we can learn to understand those feelings that come out of unexpectedly. As we can recognize them and we can accept them. As uncomfortable as they may feel, as painful as they may be, they are part of our healing… Then we can find the freedom and hope beyond our loss. 

Quiz: How Are You Coping with Grief and Loss?

Loss can come in many forms: the loss of a loved one, one’s own health, a home, a job or a cherished dream. Grief is a natural response to any kind of loss. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Grief experts have since added shock or disbelief, and we know now that a myriad of feelings can be experienced simultaneously in a great wave of emotion, especially with the loss of a loved one.

While it is natural to experience some or all of these emotions, there are ways to facilitate the process. Respond True or False to the following statements to discover how well you cope with grief and loss.

Set 1

1. I don’t feel much interest in activities that I used to really enjoy.

2. I have trouble falling asleep and, when I do, my sleep is restless and I wake up feeling tired.

3. I cry often and am afraid I won’t ever be able to stop.

4. I feel empty inside and am not sure anymore what point there is in going on.

5. I don’t want to burden my friends and loved ones with my grief so I put on a smile and hide what I’m really feeling.

6. I feel as if I have to be strong for others, so I focus on taking care of them instead of myself.

7. Although I am still deeply grieving, I worry that I should be over it by now, or that others think I should have moved on already.

Set 2

1. I know that trying to avoid my pain will only prolong my grieving; therefore, I make time to really face all my feelings.

2. Journaling and other creative outlets help me explore and express what I’m feeling.

3. In order to better handle my grief, I try to get enough sleep, eat well and avoid numbing my pain with alcohol or other substances and behaviors.

4. Although my feelings are all over the place and sometimes, I feel as if I am “going crazy,” I know that this is a normal response to great loss.

5. I have a counselor, along with the support of my friends and family, to help me work through my intense emotions and overcome obstacles to my grieving.

6. I draw comfort from meditation, prayer and spending time in nature. These activities help me take a more spiritual view of my situation.

If you answered True more often in Set 1 and False more often in Set 2, you may wish to learn some effective ways to better cope with grief and loss. Please call if you’d like support in exploring this further.

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