Honoring the Many Faces of Grief and Loss

When people think of grief and loss what most typically comes to mind is loss related to death and dying. It is generally understood that it takes a certain amount of time and energy to grieve the loss of a loved one or pet. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, there are Five Stages of Mourning, including Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Some may take longer than others to work through these normal stages of grief and every individual has his or her own personal journey to complete the healing process.

As profound a tragedy as death, there are so many other types of losses or life events that can be equally significant and can also trigger a grief response. These other kinds of losses include the end of a relationship or divorce, infidelity, infertility, miscarriage, child custody, mental illness, and aging.  There is also the substantial loss of a home, property or a valued possession, as well as loss associated with graduating, relocating, or having a loved one serve in the military. Even parents who witness the normal development of their babies into children and children into young adults can experience a sense of grief and loss for what was.

Individuals can also endure various losses of “self” throughout the course of a lifetime if they experience trauma and abuse, addiction, illness, disability, joblessness, career change, and financial hardship. There is also the loss of innocence, freedom, independence and security which can cause a considerable impact one’s sense of self and view of the world.  Really any kind of change in identity, primary role and functioning, or a major life transition can elicit a grief reaction.

In order to truly grieve it is essential that the loss is first recognized as an actual loss. (This might seem like an obvious step to some, but somehow this step is overlooked, minimized, ignored, or dismissed by many.) Should the bereavement period not be fully appreciated it can potentially impede one’s ability to heal. But once realized, the next step is to explore any thoughts and feelings associated with the loss. This can be a time of heightened anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and despair, so it’s important to not go through it alone. This stage should be met with a compassionate, understanding and non-judgmental approach.

Another key part of the process is to identify and utilize coping skills to effectively deal with the loss. Some of these strategies include talking to friends and family, journaling, exercise, meditation, prayer and other forms of self-care, such as acupuncture or massage. It can also be beneficial to seek additional assistance from a therapist or support group in order to successfully work through grief and loss.

People often wonder if they will ever get through what seems like an excruciating, long and painful process, but time passes and eventually they do move on. By honoring the loss, it is very possible and in fact highly likely to come out on the other side with the emergence of a stronger sense of self, restored hope, and a renewed spirit and perspective on life.

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