08Jun

Coming to Terms with Grief and Loss

Grief is one of those uncomfortable and difficult concepts that we all have felt in one way or another, yet we also tend to push away or avoid because it means we have to open ourselves up to vulnerability. As with every other uncomfortable emotion, it’s much easier to push under the rug and pretend like “I’m okay…I’m fine.” However, the further we push it away the longer it’s with us and it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with us. We get ourselves stuck in this cycle of self-defeat, thinking that we’re doing ourselves a favor by putting this wall up whereas in reality, it’s only prolonging the process and causing even more emotional distress in the end. It’s time for the walls to come down, it’s time to let ourselves feel, it’s time to accept the natural process of grief.

Let’s make a crack in the foundation of that wall against vulnerability by first understanding what grief really is. There are a myriad of definitions out there that synonymize grief with words such as “sorrow, misery, sadness, pain, distress, suffering, etc.” These are the exact words that make people afraid of experiencing grief in the first place. However, grief is really a natural response to losing someone or something that is important to you. This includes not only the death of a friend, family or loved one but also the loss of a relationship, job, identity, home, or way of living. There are also various emotions accompanied with grief, such as sadness, anger, shock, guilt, resentment, confusion, loneliness, etc.

Even though everyone grieves differently, there are general “stages” of grief that can help normalize the process a bit. However, these stages are not exactly linear and one may jump back and forth between them or even skip some stages because grief is individualized to each unique human being. I’d suggest thinking of them as aspects, characteristics, or traits common to the grieving experience rather than stages.

• Denial: This stage is characterized by feelings of shock and numbness (“I can’t believe this…this isn’t happening”). It’s a defense mechanism used to temporarily cope with the rush of overwhelming emotions.

• Anger: As you begin to face reality, you also start to face the real pain of your loss. It may be accompanied by feelings of frustration and helplessness which fuel anger. You may be angry at yourself or angry at your loved one because you feel abandoned. It’s okay to allow yourself to feel this anger.

• Bargaining: This stage is characterized by feelings of regret and thoughts of what you could’ve done to prevent the loss (“if only…what if…”). For some, it’s a stage of begging for pardon and may involve religion based on individual belief systems.

• Depression: This is where the sadness starts to really set in as you come to realize how the loss is affecting your life. Some depressive signs and symptoms may include, appetite changes, sleep changes, loss of interest, low energy, difficulty concentrating, etc. It may feel like it’s going to last forever but it’s important to remind yourself that it is temporary, natural, common, and appropriate to feel empty following a loss.

• Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief where you come to accept the reality of your loss. This is where you have the power to start moving forward with your life. You learn to adjust accordingly and make changes to live in a new norm. This is also where you do the most amount of growth, progress, and positive change. Even if you have come to acceptance, keep in mind that reminders of your loss (holidays, anniversaries) can also trigger the return of grief but most likely not to the extent as before.

As mentioned before, everyone experiences grief differently, therefore, there isn’t necessarily a “normal” amount of time spent grieving either. Some people may take weeks and others may take a year. Your personal grieving process depends on various facets such as the type of loss, your support system, your age, your personal beliefs, your personality, etc. It’s a process with no timeline or sequences.

So how do we reach acceptance and truly come to terms with grief and loss? The first step in this process would be to acknowledge your personal feelings and emotions regarding the loss. Let yourself feel. It can be hard and scary because that means opening up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and being vulnerable is uncomfortable. However, the only way to truly accept the loss is by letting yourself grieve it, otherwise you live a life in denial. One way to help ease into vulnerability is through mindfulness. By practicing being in the present moment, you increase your awareness of what’s going on outside of you and what’s going on inside of you. As soon as you open yourself up to your emotions, there are additional things you can do that can aid in the process of recovering from grief including self-care, finding a support group, talking to a therapist, practicing self-compassion/gratitude, journaling, creative outlets, writing a letter to your loss (even if it’s not a person), and finding meaning in your experience.

Due to current events, many individuals are experiencing a great amount of grief and loss. Covid-19 has taken away people’s jobs, loved ones, recreational activities, planned vacations/trips, form of socializing, health, high school senior experiences, graduations, comfortability, peace of mind, and “normal” way of living (whatever that “normal” means for them). If you are finding yourself having difficulty coping with grief and loss or just need some support in your journey toward change, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors. We are here to help you get through this pandemic, you are never alone!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Vehabovic