I wrote this article in 2012. At the time, I published it in Living Well Nevada Magazine April 2012 issue. For those of you grieving any kind of loss,death, divorce, forclosure, loss of a job, estranged family,) my heart is with you in your pain. I welcome your feedback, as well as feedback from others who have made it through recovery loss, and are willing to share in helping our fellow travelers through theirs.
with much love, Janet
What is Loss?
Regardless of the specifics of the loss, something or someone you deeply cherish in your life, is lost, and your heart is broken. In its simplest form, loss is when something you value, something in which you are invested, is taken from you. When most of us hear the word loss, we think of the word “death.”
But death is only one form of loss. Loss comes in many different forms. Death is not the only way to lose someone or something. There are so many other ways that people hearts are shattered and lives are turn upside down. Divorce, a broken friendship, the loss of a job or home, a miscarriage, or even a failed dream, or intense disappointment.
Unless we die at a very young age, we are unlikely to escape the day our heart is broken.
The question is not if we will lose; because we inevitably will; the question is; how will we handle it when we do? Yes, yes, I know… no one likes to talk about this stuff, it’s not fun to think about, believe me, it’s hard for me to write about. But it’s a fact; life and loss do happen, and it’s one of the steepest hills I’ve ever had to climb.
Sudden versus Predictable Loss
Sudden or shocking losses can rattle your sense of security and confidence in the predictability of life. There is no way to prepare. You may experience symptoms such as insomnia, nightmares, distressing thoughts, severe anxiety, depressed mood, and social isolation. Predictable losses, like those due to terminal illness, sometimes allow more time to prepare for the loss. However, they create two layers of grief: the grief related to the anticipation of the loss and the grief related to the loss itself.
You can Love, Lose, and Survive.
At some point in our lives, it is inevitable, that each of us will face the loss of someone or something very dear to us. The grief that follows a loss can be unbearable. Grief is actually a healing process, and is the emotional suffering we feel after a loss of some kind. Bereavement counselor and psychiatric nurse Martha Tousely says “Grief is like a long, winding tunnel whose entrance is closed behind you, and the only way out is through it” Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has named the five stages of grief people go through following a serious loss. Sometimes people get stuck in one of the first four stages. Their lives can be painful until they are able to move to the fifth stage – acceptance. The pain doesn’t just come to an end, but somehow we learn to accept and learn to live life in a new way.
The Five Stages of Grief
1. Denial and Isolation. At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts.
2. Anger. The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if they are dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
3. Bargaining. Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
4. Depression. The person feels numb, although anger and sadness
5. Acceptance. This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss, and learns to live life in the new reality.
Grief & Stress
During grief, it is common to have many conflicting feelings. Sorrow, anger, loneliness, sadness, shame, anxiety, and guilt often accompany serious losses. Yet denying the feelings, and failing to work through the five stages of grief, is harder on the body and mind than going through them. Each one of us has an individual style of coping with painful experiences. The suggestions below may help you generate ideas about how to manage your own feelings of grief, or help someone in your life get through a difficult period of their own life.
Talk to family or friends and find strength in others.
Although it may feel like you’re all alone, and no one can relate to what you are going through, try talking to someone who has gone through what you’ve experienced, or someone who is a source of comfort and strength to you. Be patient with others who haven’t gone through what you are experiencing. No matter how close you are to them or how much they love and care about you, they will unknowingly say insensitive things, like “it’s probably for the best” or “you can always adopt.” or “at least you have other children.” Take a deep breath and remember that people sometimes just don’t know what to say, but their intention is to try to show you that they care.
Find healthy ways to soothe your pain.
Seek counseling through a grief support group or church
Engage in social activities
Eat healthy, good foods
Seek spiritual support
Take time to relax
Join a support group
Listen to music
Be patient with yourself
Only you know what works best with your personality and lifestyle. However, it’s important to note that some ways of coping with grief are helpful, like talking to others or writing in a journal. Others may be hurtful or destructive to the healing process, like abusing substances or isolating yourself. Healthy coping skills are important in resolving a loss and helping you move forward in the healing process.
Be Supportive Others Who Are Grieving.
As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of making the person feel bad. People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings.
Below are some ways that you can help someone you know that is experiencing loss.
Be a good listener
Ask about their feelings
Just sit with them
Share your feelings
Ask about their loss
Remember the loss
Make telephone calls
Acknowledge their pain
Allow them to feel sad
Be available when you can
Do not minimize their grief
“If you’re going through hell, keep going” Winston Churchill
It takes time — days, weeks and sometimes months and years to learn how to live a new “normal” life without that special someone there. The length of the grief process is different for everyone. There is no “timetable” for when you’ll step back into your life. There is no predictable schedule for grief. Although it can be quite painful at times, the grief process should not be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself or others as each person experiences unique reactions to a loss. Grief is sometimes compared to climbing a spiral staircase where things can look and feel like you are just going in circles, yet you are actually making progress.
When we face death related losses, the challenge is to heal, accept, and find the strength to go on. For material losses, divorce and lifestyle changes, it’s regaining or replacing what was lost, and re-setting your goals toward a different route to success. There comes a time when you must take a stand for how you are going to react to this hard hit. This means mentally, emotionally, and spiritually accepting the reality of your loss and letting go of a situation you cannot alter.
Finally, there is wisdom in the old adage, about living every day as if it were your last. This doesn’t mean that we should be live recklessly or not plan for the future. Rather, it means that we shouldn’t take tomorrow for granted, and “bad things don’t just happen to other people”. Things change. The clock ticks. People change & death is a natural process. Don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Each morning, ask yourself, “Have I done and said the things that I would wish I had if I lost something or someone I love tomorrow?” And if you haven’t, do it today.
Janet Womack is the founder of A Dose of Sunshine website and Holistic Life Strategist at Janetlwomack.com
Author, Aesthetician, and Holistic Health and Happiness Strategist. After experiencing tragedies and loss in her own life, she sought ways to cope and heal, to embrace life again. Her passion to not only survive, but “thrive” led her to create a safe place to help others learn to embrace life and share what they are going through, with no judgement. She has been a health, wellness, & beauty professional for the past 24 years.