Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful. You may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness you’re experiencing will never let up. These are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and help you move on.
When the pain of loss happens, it’s like a lighting bolt comes and shakes the foundation of the ground. We question everything —our identity, who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. There is power in surrendering to the unknown. In coming to accept that we no longer have control over what happens to us, we realize that what we once knew we no longer can know. In fact, much of the spiritual experience is coming to realize all that we are not, and less about what we think we are or what we know.
The experience of losing something we value is a part of life no one can escape from. Loss has many shapes and forms, it could be a relationship that comes to an end, a loved one dies, a break up comes, children leave or any other sort of transition that brings about a feeling of loss. When a feeling of loss happens, learning to cope is essential to be able to bounce back. When we lose something, we go through a period of grieving process which can generally start with denial and then go to feelings of anger, sadness and then acceptance. Awareness is important to make sure you’re not stuck in any of these stages and that you can process each and move forward.
Loss is as much a part of human existence as breathing. It is an everyday event: a lost wallet, earring, investment opportunity. In most cases, we ponder what might have happened, get a little agitated, then quickly move on. Maybe your health was devastated by a chronic illness or you experienced the death of a loved one. Whenever a loss suddenly and irrevocably changes the course of your life, breaking the line from the past you cherished to the future you counted on, the complex feelings of pain you experience can all be classified as grief.
Grief is about more than your feelings—it will show up in how you think. You may disbelieve this person actually died. You may have episodes of thinking like this even long after they died. Your mind may be confused, your thinking muddled. You may find it difficult to concentrate on just about everything. Or you may be able to focus your attention but all you can focus on is the one who died, or how they died, or your life together before they died.
Denial, numbness, and shock: Numbness is a normal reaction to a death or loss. This stage of grief helps protect us from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It can be useful when we have to take some action, such as planning a funeral, notifying relatives, or reviewing important papers. As we move through the experience and slowly acknowledges its impact, the initial denial and disbelief fades. Everyone grieves differently.
During a time of loss, we can experience a wide range of emotions with varying degrees of intensity. In a time of an important personal loss, it is as if a part of us has died. Many people who lose a spouse or best friend feel that they have lost their soul mate, the one with whom they felt emotionally safe. There is an unbelievable sense of emptiness – empty house, empty arms, empty heart. There may be feelings of anger at God for taking our loved one, anger at church, doctors, family, friends, boss and co-workers. We may even be angry at our loved one for abandoning us. We may be angry at ourselves for crying in public. We think we should be stronger. We may be jealous of others when we see that they possess what we have lost. We may feel a loss of meaning. Why get up and go on? We may even hope for death and may have passing thoughts about ending our own lives.
Some causes of loss and grief: Divorce or relationship breakup; Death of a loved one; A miscarriage; Loss of health; A loved one’s serious illness.
Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Realize that everyone deals with death differently. Give yourself time to heal. You are not expected to be perfect. Your struggles build your character. Your experiences make you unique.
I learned once in a counseling psychology class that it takes two years to grieve the loss of a loved one. In human time, that seems like an eternity. There are stages. And each stage brings a remembrance. Accept that sometimes you have a bad day for no apparent reason. Cherish the memories of your loved one.
Start taking steps to fill up the void within: When you lose something of value to you, there is usually an empty spot within you that craves your attention. The closer your connection and the more intense the loss, the more profound the emptiness may feel. When ready and within a reasonable time frame that you set for yourself, you have to find ways to fill up this gap with something positive that makes you feel good whether it is another relationship or an activity that generates vitality and gives your life a new meaning.
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It can be just as normal to feel little or no grief in the face of a great loss. How do we find reason in having something or someone we love taken away? The first impulse is to confront that most basic of human questions: Why me? Anger: This stage is common. It usually happens when we feel helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a death or loss. Sometimes we’re angry at a higher power, at the doctors who cared for a lost loved one, or toward life in general.
Many grieving people want to spend more time alone. Sometimes they’re drawn to the quiet and safety they experience there, and sometimes it’s a way of dodging other people. Even venturing out to the grocery store, a shopping mall, or a worship service can feel uncomfortable. Grief is the pain we feel when there is loss. Naming the losses helps us understand and helps us be able to anchor the loss in our consciousness so that we can work with it, and take it into our heart. Many of us live our lives from our head, our brain, our logical mind and that is only part of who we are. For many of us, the more stressed and frightened we are the more we are stuck in our rational mind. However, that is only a part of who we are. It is so important to learn how to get out of our heads and connect with the rest of ourselves. One of the most effective ways to do this is to be connected with your body – to consciously put our awareness in our body, not just in our thinking place.
Grief work, though very painful, is good and holy. Each person’s grief process is unique and different for at least two reasons. First, each of us is different. We bring to our grieving a unique history. For instance, we may or may not find it easy to name and express our feelings. We may or may not have grieved previous losses. We may have a history of facing or avoiding difficult issues. Second, each grieving process is unique and different because of the nature of the relationship we had with the person we have lost. Each relationship has its own texture and history, all of which will play out in the grief process.
The vast majority of people know little or nothing about the grief process. A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning.
The greatest thing about death is that it helps us grow up. It matures us. It brings wisdom. It strengthens our bones. It teaches us to let go. Replace the negative feelings with positive ones: Cognitive modification is a great tool to be used here. Learn to become more emotionally stable: Emotional health is important to be able to go through life’s ups and downs. People with high emotional intelligence learn to feel more positive emotions and less negative ones even when life’s challenges hit them.
Key principles to remember when dealing with the death of a loved one: Accept that loss is a basic part of our life cycle. Whatever is born must die. Whatever grows must decay. These are universal laws. We tend to forget that these physical bodies are mortal. Everything we see around us will one-day decay and cease to be. That includes all plants, animals, people, buildings, cities, the planet earth, the sun and even the galaxy. Everything in the physical universe is temporary. When this fact is understood and accepted, we will begin to seek other, inner sources of security and happiness.
We need to remember that forgiveness is usually a very important part of the grieving process. This may include, forgiving church, family members, doctors, friends, neighbors, coworkers, ourselves and even the deceased for dying. We may need to deal with and forgive unresolved past hurts and issues with the deceased loved one.
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Share your grief: It nearly always helps to share our pain with others, especially with someone who will listen with a compassionate ear. It is important to share our story many times. We will learn early in the grieving process that there are people with whom we can share our loss and others with whom we can’t. We will find that people, including good friends, do not want to continue to hear about our loss.