Understanding Grief And Loss

Some general guidelines for dealing with grief and loss.

Understanding Loss

Loss is defined as a “separation from, a detachment from something or someone of value.” The magnitude of the loss and its meaning and value to the individual affects the intensity of a person’s response. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to predict how any one person will respond to a particular loss. But it always causes some change in perception of one’s self or lifestyle and some type of adaptation or adjustment is required.

Following a loss of great significance (e.g. death of spouse or child, divorce, loss of farm), a person normally moves from a period of acute emotional pain and sadness to a more comfortable emotional state. This movement through a series of adaptive stages is known as the grief process. It may take from several weeks to several years to adequately complete the process. No one can keep a person from suffering; but you do not have to suffer for the wrong reasons. We must choose what to remember of the past, cherish the joys of the present, and plan a future to which we can look forward.

Ten Helpful Guidelines

These guidelines are presented in the hope that they will help grieving individuals in their journey from helplessness to hopefulness.

  1. Accept your emotions. Any significant loss, such as death of a loved one, hurts. It is difficult to say goodbye—to realize that in your lifetime you will never see or touch your loved one again. Why pretend that you are not experiencing turmoil by “keeping a stiff upper lip”? Your emotions are a natural response to the death of a loved one.

  2. Express your feelings. Deal with your conflicting feelings openly. A feeling that is denied expression is not destroyed; it remains with you and often erupts at inappropriate times. It does hurt to use words like dead and widow; but you must confront reality and put your feelings into words. Cry if you want to. It is a natural expression of grief for both men and women. Crying is the emptying out of the emotions so healing can occur.

  3. Don’t expect miracles overnight. Allow sufficient time for the grieving period to run its course. Don’t compare yourself with others in similar positions. Their smiles might not reveal the depth of their sorrow. Be yourself. Don’t pretend grief beyond the time you need to grieve. Nor do you need pretend recovery before you are recovered.

  4. If you have children, bring them into the grieving process. Death is a crisis that should be shared by all members of the family. Children too often are forgotten by grieving adults. Silence and secrecy deprive them of an important opportunity to share grief. When in your heartache you overlook your children’s feelings, you heighten their sense of isolation.

  5. Don’t escape into loneliness. If you isolate yourself, stay alone too much, your home will become a protective shell that keeps you from facing the challenges of life. At the same time, look at your priorities so you don’t overload your circuits. Stick with what is important and necessary now and don’t worry too much about what is down the road.

  6. Keep in touch with your friends. Let the right people know that you need their support and feedback. They cannot bring you comfort unless you talk with them and share your feelings. They cannot bring you comfort unless you allow them to enter your sorrow. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are especially difficult times to be alone. Plan ahead to spend these days with caring and understanding friends.

  7. Join a support group. At some point you may be disappointed in the reactions of your friends or acquaintances or close friends. Perhaps you don’t hear from them as often as in the past. They may seem awkward or uneasy in your presence or even avoid your company. That’s why self-help groups have been successful in providing necessary emotional intervention through the crisis of great loss. People in these groups understand your fears and frustrations; they have been there before themselves.

  8. Counseling may be very beneficial. Sorrow leaves its imprint on the healthiest of personalities. You may need more than the warmth of a close friend or understanding of a fellow sufferer. A professional counselor who is not emotionally attached to you may be more effective to assist you in dealing with your intense feelings or maintaining a clear perspective.

  9. Be nice to yourself. By treating yourself well, you could become your own best friend. While you need caring and supportive people, you also need moments of solitude to find yourself. A little withdrawal and reflection will allow you to become more relaxed and energized. By taking care of yourself, you will recognize your strengths as well as your weaknesses. You will become more confident that you can manage the challenging days ahead. After all, if you’re not nice to yourself, who will be?

  10.  Turn pain into growth. Death ends a life, not a relationship. Through grief, you can become a more understanding, compassionate and sympathetic person. Resolve to live as your beloved would want to live, love as they would want you to love, and serve others as they would have wanted you to serve. The Chinese word-picture symbol for crisis is the same as the symbol for opportunity. This is your new challenge.

©Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprinted from “Understanding Grief and Loss” by Herbert G. Lingren, File HEG223, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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