Archive of ‘Grief and Loss’ category

How to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One

If you are struggling with how to cope with the loss of a loved one, this information might be very helpful. 

Humans are biologically wired for attachment. Unlike other mammals, we are born entirely dependent on our caregivers for many months. In order to ensure the survival of the species, the brain and body respond to the distress of the infant in particular, and to people more generally. We adhere to this attachment paradigm for the duration of our lives, through our relationships with siblings, friends, colleagues, romantic partners, and of course our children. Thus we assign meaning to our lives is largely to the extent to which we feel close to and connected with others. We simply aren’t built to live in isolation.

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Grief Has Powerful Biological Effects

The powerful biological and environmental force that shapes and reinforces the intricate web of relationships inevitably creates an interdependence between who we are as individuals and who we are in relation to others. Sometimes the lines become blurred. Who hasn’t wondered, “Without you in my life, I don’t know what I would do, I don’t know who I would be.” It’s almost unimaginable to lose the other that is in part a reflection, or even an embodiment of who we are. And yet we invariably do.

Relationship Loss is Tough

Just as every relationship is unique, so is our response to losing it. While it is critical to acknowledge the individual, personal nature of grief, it is equally important to recognize the universality of grief, and the ways we can profoundly connect with others while grieving. For most people in the United States, grief is something to endure in relative isolation before returning to normal life. After an initial outpouring of support and engaging in cultural or religious customs that honor the dead, we are left to grieve alone.

Making sense of a world turned upside down by grief is challenging, and it doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. In light of our need for attachment, it often requires the ongoing support and help of others to do so in a healthy way. For some, staying engaged with friends and family is most helpful; others need involvement in a spiritual community; and for others joining a bereavement group or individual grief therapy is useful. The important thing to remember is that there is support available if we seek it out.

Grief is Nothing to Feel Ashamed Of

Grief is a normal, natural response to loss. It is not something to feel ashamed of. It can be extremely painful, but it can also be the source of incredible strength, resilience, and meaning. The idea that we must endure grief and return to our former selves not only demands the impossible, but undermines the transformative nature of grief. Phillis Levin, in her poem, Vigil, beautifully depicts the mystery and wonder, even cosmic nature of the grief experience.

 

Why not wake at dawn? Why not break

From the coffin at night, whose nails

Are the only stars left. Why not follow

A tear like a comet’s tail, and trail

The grief of a year until it ends-

Who knows where. Why not wake

At dawn, after all is gone, and go on?

how-to-cope-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one

 


Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays

For those of us who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. For most this is a time of celebration, to spend joyful time with family and friends, and to be thankful and grateful for those connections. However, for those who have experienced loss, this time of year often serves as a reminder that those we cared for are gone. It can be difficult to experience the joy of the holidays, and some of us may even feel guilty when we do experience that joy again. When grieving the loss of someone important to us, the process continues. No matter when the loss occurred, it’s important to know that grief can return at different points, and the holidays can be big triggers for this grief. The pain dissipates over time, but it never truly goes away, and anniversaries and events such as a holiday often reopen the wounds of loss. For those of you who will experience this over this holiday season, I’d like to offer some help with managing your grief so you can both honor the loss and also remain in the present where joy can be recognized and attained.

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

  1. Talk about it with others who share in your loss.

It is a natural instinct to avoid pain and suffering, so discussing the loss may seem counter intuitive. But talking about the loss with those who understand can be incredibly healing. It is so important to be heard and understood, to have our experience validated, and this is most often achieved either with a professional counselor or with friends or family members who have had their own experience with loss. Be sure to choose someone who will be nonjudgmental and accepting of your experience. This person does not necessarily have to have experienced loss to be a healthy support for you, but frequently being able to speak with others who were also close to the lost loved one can be very cathartic and comforting for both parties. This allows you to share in your pain and see the universality of grief, to know that you are not alone in your suffering. It can also feel wonderful to be in a position to help others through their healing journey. This can also be a healing opportunity to honor the loved one’s memory.

  1. Take care of yourself.

Self-care is extremely important when grieving a loss, especially during the holidays when there is so much else going on that can add stress. There is no one “right’ way to grieve, so try to understand your own grieving pattern. There are frequently bouts of crying, isolation, intense feelings (such as sadness, anger, etc.), or numbness. These can be followed by periods of joviality and socialization. Again, there is no “normal” way to grieve and there is certainly no time period after which you should be “over it.” Get to know and have compassion for your grieving process and the ways in which your emotions may cycle. Compassion means acceptance and the absence of judgment. Your body knows what it needs – trust it! If you seem to be staying in sadness that only worsens over time, it may be helpful to seek professional help, and that is all okay too.

  1. Stay in tune with the present experience.

You can use simple grounding techniques to keep yourself in the present if you feel you are dwelling too much in the past or the future as it relates to your loss. Some techniques include:

  • Going through the events of the day, identifying what you have already done and what you have yet to accomplish.
  • Deep breathing techniques, such as taking a slow, deep breath in, holding it for 5 seconds, and slowly exhaling. Try to do it at least 5 times.
  • Identifying 5 things in your present environment that are red, blue or any other color.
  • Keeping a totem in your pocket or purse (like a button, some dice, or small stone) that you can hold in the palm or your hand and rub with your fingers to orient you to the present moment.

Holiday Cheer or Holiday Drear

With holiday music playing in stores, Starbucks releasing their new holiday latte, and wreathes hanging on doors, I can’t help but anticipate the upcoming holiday season. And while society projects the holidays as a time of joy, parties, and wonderful family gatherings, it is important to remember that the holidays can be a very challenging time, particularly for those struggling with grief and loss, loneliness, illnesses, economic concerns, or relational issues like divorce and separation. Even individuals who aren’t struggling with the aforementioned concerns often feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations, family strife, and to-do lists that seem to go along with this time of year. Additionally, many people report feeling down, or a sense of disappointment after the holiday hype.

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Following are a list of suggestions to help you this holiday season:

  • Maintain your normal routines like exercising, sleeping, attending therapy sessions/group meetings, taking medication, spiritual/religious practices, and self-care activities as much as possible.
  • Stay in touch and reach out to supportive people in your life as stress/anxiety/depression comes up.
  • Set limits and boundaries when necessary to take care of yourself.
  • Try to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and others. There is no such thing as the “perfect” holiday we often imagine.
  • Try to stay out of criticizing, judging, or comparing yourself to others. Comparison (think social media) leads to feeling isolated and not good enough.
  • Join a support group if you are struggling with mental illness, grief and loss, separation or divorce.
  • Talk about your feelings with people who care about you. Ask for what you need.

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