Grief & Loss
Grief is the normal and natural response to the loss of someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life. Grief is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss, a move away from family and friends, or loss of good health due to illness.
Grief reactions may include:
- Feeling empty and numb, as if you are in a state of shock
- Physical responses such as nausea, trouble breathing, crying, confusion, lack of energy, dry mouth, or changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Anger—at a situation, a person or in general
- Guilt about what you did or did not do
- Withdrawal from family, friends and common activities
- Difficulty focusing, working or making decisions
- Questions about faith or spirituality; challenges to the meaning, value and purpose you find in life
Grief lasts as long as it takes to adjust to the changes in your life after your loss. This can be for months, or even years. Grief has no timetable; thoughts, emotions, behaviors and other responses may come and go.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF LOSS
Loss is an inevitable part of life, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. The reasons for grief are many, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the letting go of a long-held dream. Dealing with a significant loss can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life.
Examples of loss:
- Loss of a close friend
- Death of a partner
- Death of a classmate or colleague
- Serious illness of a loved one
- Relationship breakup
- Death of a family member
Subtle or less obvious examples of loss:
- Leaving home
- Illness/loss of health
- Death of a pet
- Change of job
- Move to a new home
- Graduation from school
- Loss of a physical ability
- Loss of financial security
These types of loss can also cause strong feelings of grief, even though those around you may not know the extent of your feelings.
THE GRIEVING PROCESS
The process of grieving in response to a significant loss requires time, patience, courage and support. The grieving person will likely experience many changes throughout the process, often beginning with an experience of shock, followed by a long process of suffering, and finally a process of recovery.
- Shock. Shock is the person’s emotional protection from being too suddenly overwhelmed by the loss. The grieving person may feel stunned, numb, or in disbelief concerning the loss. While in shock the person may not be able to make even simple decisions. Friends and family may need to simply sit, listen, and assist with the person’s basic daily needs. Shock may last a matter of minutes, hours, or days.
- Suffering. Suffering is the long period of grief during which the person gradually comes to terms with the reality of the loss. It is often the most painful and protracted stage for the griever, but it is still necessary. The suffering process typically involves a wide range of feelings, thoughts and behaviors, as well as an overall sense of life seeming chaotic and disorganized. The duration of the suffering process differs with each person, partly depending on the nature of the loss experienced. Some common features of suffering include sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety and changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
- Recovery. Recovery, while the goal of grieving, is not the elimination of all the pain or the memories of the loss. Instead, the goal is to reorganize one’s life so that the loss is one important part of life rather than the center of one’s life. As recovery takes place, the individual is better able to accept the loss, resume a “normal” life, and to reinvest time, attention, energy and emotion into other parts of his/her life. The loss is still felt, but the loss has become part of the griever’s more typical feelings and experiences.
OBSTACLES TO HEALING
Grief is a misunderstood and neglected process in life. Because responding to death is often awkward, uncomfortable, even frightening for both grievers and helpers, those concerned may avoid dealing with grief. This can make the experience more lonely and unhappy than it might be otherwise.
In addition, society promotes many misconceptions about grief that may actually hinder the recovery and growth that follow loss. For example, many believe it necessary to try to change how a grieving friend is feeling and may do so by making statements such as, “You must be strong,” “You have to get on with your life,” or “It’s good that he didn’t have to suffer.” Such cliches may help the one saying them, but are rarely helpful to the griever. Society also promotes the misconception that it is not appropriate to show emotions except at the funeral, and that recovery should be complete within six months. A helper needs to avoid these and other ways of minimizing a person’s grief. Those in grief need to be encouraged to recover in their own ways.
Talking about death at a party or social gathering, or bringing up the topic at a family dinner, is socially inappropriate for most people – if not extremely uncomfortable.
Yet the fact that most of us avoid this topic at all costs is what makes it so hard when we lose someone close, whatever the age or circumstances. By not talking about death, it makes it hard to process when it actually takes place.
Grief therapy provides a safe and understanding environment for an individual to work through any cognitive or behavioral problems associated with complicated grief. And, the process of talking through the fears, regrets, anger and guilt with a counselor trained in how to listen without having “quick fixes” brings a great amount of comfort to many individuals.
Many interventions will be the same as those for other mental health disorders. For example, individuals suffering with generalized anxiety disorder will often receive a range of cognitive-behavioral therapies designed to re-structure irrational beliefs and thoughts.
For those struggling with anxiety, most thoughts that run nonstop through their minds cause stress and mental distress, and those who have these thoughts can’t stop them without the help of a therapist.
In the same way, individuals struggling with problematic grief often have thoughts about the deceased or the death of the deceased that are irrational, or not based on accurate perceptions.
The goal of the therapist is to target these thoughts and teach individuals how to think differently about loss.
In cases of complicated grief, behaviors become dysfunctional, such as turning to alcohol or drugs to treat the emotional pain, or simply refusing to socialize or engage in enjoyable pastimes or activities.
Grief therapy addresses behavioral issues through cognitive behavioral interventions as well. These interventions often involve getting individuals to acknowledge their unhealthy coping patterns, and work toward healthier behaviors.