Grief and loss are an inevitable part of life. In today’s world it seems even more frequent then before. Can you think of the last time you went a week without hearing that some one died? Many people have been blessed enough that most of the loss they hear of was not someone close to them. Regardless of that minor factor it can still be draining. There are a number of books and other documents written about the stages of and adapting to grief and loss.
Few people can say that they have not heard of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief (Denial -> Anger -> Bargaining -> Depression -> Acceptance). David Kessler is another prolific author who has contributed abundantly to the literature on grief and bereavement. Many individuals and counseling professionals can draw from these and other authors of similar literature to assist them in helping clients who are dealing with grief.
While many would say that stages such as Dr. Küble-Ross’ are universal, we could all very likely agree that individuals don’t necessarily experience the stages in the same manner. It has also been found that many people don’t progress through these stages in a linear order. The goal in this article is to share some basic and common tools that have worked for people, which an individual can try to implement on their own.
1. Grieve– This may sound obvious, but unfortunately many people don’t allow themselves that opportunity. When you loose someone close, it’s perfectly ok to cry. You are hurting and crying is one way to help release your hurt. This is not to say that it will take away the pain- just that it helps to just let it out.
Cry- It helps to release the tension.
Share- The concept of “being strong for…” can sometimes hinder your progress. You have to be strong for dad, for mom, for the kids. If every one is putting on a front so the other does not see their hurt, then you may be doing yourself and them a disservice. It’s ok for others to know that you are hurting, then you give them permission to also experience what they are feeling instead of repressing it. It’s ok to talk about the deceased and share some of the funny stories that have every one in stitches laughing; that’s an other way to release.
Commiserate with others- It normalizes what you’re feeling. There is certainly a value in knowing that you are not the only one going through this experience.
2. Rituals- Many cultures have different rituals that they perform in these situations. Participate. Engage. These are in a way another final engagement with the departed loved one. These can help with arriving to closure. Sometimes failing to participate can leave a feeling of guilt later. This does not mean that you have to attend every memorial service put on by the school, job, church and other organizations the departed was a member of. It simply means go when you can and you’re up to it. These allow you the opportunity share in the experience others had with your loved one. It also gives you a chance to pick up a few more funny stories for your memory bank.
3. Engage in Life-Affirming Activities– You have lost a loved one, but you are still alive. Don’t succumb to pressure to stop your life. You can still do some of the things that bring you joy. As long as you are up to it, you should hop to it. At some point you will likely hit the stage of depression, and at that time you will need as many recent memories of the positives in life as you try to find a way out of the depression. Stay engaged in life. Go out when you’re up to it. Volunteer somewhere to help others in need. Contribute (tangible or time) to a charity that was valued by you or the departed. You can grieve while you live. It’s all a question of balance.
4. Accept help- It is not uncommon that people would burry themselves in work, because for many people, as long as they are busy and going they can handle it. That of-course is a temporary fix. The hustle and bustle will subside. The flow of visitors will diminish. At that time the hurt will still be there, but there may be fewer people around to help you through it. It’s ok to let someone else clean up the kitchen while you take time out to address your pain and your needs for comforting. You do not have to do every thing.
As things return to quiet, you may find that you need a little but more support to help you get through the loss. That is just fine. Support groups exist primarily for that purpose, to give you a little extra support. The group setting is not for everyone, and there are professionals who can provide the individual counseling to help an individual work through the grief of loss. A life coach is another professional resource who can help in this time of difficult adjustment. There are many to choose from, and one who has clinical counseling experience may be preferable in this case. Take advantage of these opportunities. Use them to your benefit.
5. Take breaks- Although well meaning, the constant stream o visitors can be overwhelming. If necessary (and possible, since in some cultures it just happens) schedule the time to receive visitors. Meet with them during that time. In some cultures visitors tend to just show up. In these cases, schedule break times: a moment to be away from it all. To be in a place where you get to choose whether or not it will be about your loss. A walk in the park, a trip, to the mall, or afternoon movie. With friends or alone, this time can be very helpful to help you return to your center.
Grief is a difficult part of life, but it is a part that as humans we have been able to cope with. Keeping a positive attitude through grief may sound oxymoronic, but it works. Knowing that the pain of loss will one day be more manageable is something to look forward to. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people, not those dwelling on or exploiting your pain. Remember- It’s ok to cry, but on your schedule, not someone else’s. It’s ok to share, again as you need, not someone else wants you to. Seek the help of those who can help and limit contact with those who encourage the hurt. Grief is different for every individual and every case, so it should be expected that progress will also differ. So allow your grieving process to be your own every time. Don’t compare this time or this loss to the last one, and don’t compare your process or progress to another person’s.
Each individual is unique, and so are their relationships with everyone in their lives. Grieving is necessary, so grieve. As you grieve you learn to manage the pain of the loss. When you fail to grieve this pain has a way of staying around, and popping up when it is least expected or desired.