Mindy Staum, LCSW
Loss throughout life is inevitable. Amidst the joys and gifts loved ones bring us, they also leave us with loss. Loss of jobs … of friendships … of marriages … of loved ones … loss of hopes and dreams
As we age, the losses become more frequent and more visible. We lose time with children and family who have their own lives or now live further away. We lose time with friends who are not as easily accessible to us.
We may lose some of our identity when we are no longer working. We may lose opportunities for recreation as we no longer have the physical stamina we had in our youth. We may even lose the ability to ambulate, dress, or shower. We may lose the ability to travel as our health declines or when we have less disposable income. We feel the loss of our independence as we are no longer able to drive. We may recognize that we are losing cognitive abilities or become increasingly forgetful at times. We may lose our ability to manage our own affairs. We lose friends. We lose our spouses and partners. Some of us will lose our children, and even grandchildren.
Yes, loss is a part of life. It is a fact of life. Yet dealing with loss can be daunting. As we go through the stages of grief designed by Kubler Ross, we do not have to grieve alone. You can seek psychotherapy to help you undergo the grief process. Grieving our losses is, at best, a journey into which we are thrust without our choosing.
The intensity of the grief we feel will depend on the significance of the loss to us. Some losses are small; some are monumental – life altering. Grieving the loss of a promotion is not equivalent to the loss of spouse or a parent. One of my favorite quotes “where their was deep love, we are left with great pain”. In order to feel the intensity of the loss, we must have loved.
We must respond to, and integrate, our grief moving through all the stages of grief. Yet there is wisdom we can access as we enter into this walk.
Treat yourself tenderly. Don’t expect too much of yourself and don’t set timetables. There is wisdom in those traditions that name a “year of mourning.” Allow yourself time to not have any major changes for at least a year. Also, don’t expect to “get over it” or get “closure.” There may be some losses that you never “get over” … you simply learn to hold the pain and emptiness and regret that comes with loss.
Acknowledge the emotions that arise from grief. Sadness. Anger. Denial. Guilt. Fear. Anxiety.Bargaining.Depression. Disbelief. And expect to experience surprising waves of this range of emotions. Grieving happens differently and at different rates for everyone. It can slowly grow or overwhelm you in an instant. It will hit you like a rogue wave.
Find language to express your grief. What words would you use? Grief is … a journey. A tidal wave. A burning fire. A black hole. An abyss. A labyrinth. A maze. A tsunami. A spiral. A roller-coaster. A mountain. However you might choose to talk about or describe your grief, give it words. Find a way to express it out loud … even if only talking to yourself in the mirror. Giving it voice is part of healing. Maybe a grief support group would be a useful resource to you.
Get out of the house. Take a walk. Meet up with friend. Embrace your support systems. Enjoy the sunshine. Take full advantage of the healing power of the natural world.
Don’t be alone. Attend religious services if you find them helpful. Go the movies.
Tell others what you need. Don’t expect them to be able to read your mind … and don’t expect them to know how to respond. Your friends and family will want to help. _Let them help you._
Take care of your physical health. Make sure you eat nutritious meals. Grief is exhausting so get plenty of sleep. Rest.
Finally, know the difference between grief and depression. Grief is normal; depression is an illness. If you find yourself depressed, seek support from a mental health profession.
Since losses and grief are a part of life, we do have to learn how to find the joy and the happiness that co-exist alongside the grief.