Grief is the reaction to loss of any kind: Heartbreak. Death. Loss of a relationship, a job, a state of health, a home or a business.
This is one of the most painful and trying experiences a human can endure. You may experience a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from shock, guilt and loneliness, to anger and depression. Over time, the highs and lows become more manageable but big ups and downs can continue to reappear.
While grieving a loss is a highly individualized experience with no set timeline, studies show that many people find their lives are better off following a process of grief. This is a little known and surprising flip side of grief called post-traumatic growth or post-stress growth, which enables movement beyond the pain and helps people to find joy in life again. This growth is a process that takes time, and is best supported through contact with family, friends and a trained mental health practitioner.
Stages of Grief:
Making sense of your loss and struggle is one of the best ways you can support this growth. Tracking where you are in your feeling state is one way of making sense of your loss. Different models exist as to what typical stages of grief look like. An early model of grief, developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, was initially formed as a guideline of grief for an individual in confronting their own death. Some now refer to this model as passive grieving, implying that these feelings arise and there is not much that can be done for them. Newer models suggest that grief is an active process and that one does not heal from time simply passing but rather how you use that time.
Grief stages are not linear per se, however it can be helpful to draw the following feeling states out on a line to track where you are and how you are moving through your grief process:
Again, this process is unique to each individual and there is no single correct way to grieve. What is important is that grief involves a range of intense feelings that we need help processing, understanding, and moving through.
Strategies for Coping with Grief:
When it feels right, try to begin to balance the pain of loss with more pleasurable memories. If the grief is a result of a lost relationship, try to remember the warm and special things about that person (or animal, job, or whatever form the loss takes) so that you can start to ground yourself in those memories.
One way to express the feelings connected with the loss and to begin a healthy grieving process is to write a letter to the lost loved one. Writing letters can be a way to help you identify and express your thoughts and feelings.
First, find a quiet space to help you concentrate on writing without distractions. A quiet room, or a favorite outdoor place like the beach or a park are some options. To guide your letter, reflect on the following questions:
- What thoughts and feelings did you experience when you learned of the loss?
- What are some of the positive things you miss about your loved one?
- What are some of the hurts or disappointments you experienced in your relationship with your loved one?
- Do you feel the loss was your fault?
- How would your loved one want you to live your life now?
Creating a memorial collage is another way of honoring your loss. Your collage might contain family photos, magazine clippings, words/phrases or anything that you feel best expresses your feelings. Arrange the photos or words/phrases on a board or in a journal. In looking over your work, reflect on what it communicates to you about your feelings about the loss.
Therapy for Grief:
Although there is no way to anticipate how the feelings of sadness, anger and loss will heal and resolve, a compassionate and skilled therapist can help you to process the answers to these questions and can support you as you begin to make sense of how this loss is affecting your present life.
Some therapists that specialize in working with grief and loss here at the Well Clinic: