The Complexities of grief and loss
Strategies to effectively cope with grief - A journey of healing
Grief and loss are a painfully normal part of life, an experience universal to the human condition. Grief may follow a physical loss, such as the loss of a loved one, or follow an emotional loss, such as the loss of a type of lifestyle or environment. Due to recent events, it is normal to feel a sense of loss for a time without the stress of a pandemic, floods, fires or world conflicts. These feelings of grief may never fully disappear, but we can learn to manage them and begin to turn the volume down on the pain. With that, it’s important to understand what grief is and how we can deal with the pain and heartache, to remain on a journey of growth and healing.
What is Grief?
I am Dreamer’s song title ‘What is Grief, If Not Love Persevering’ says it eloquently. Grief is the human response to a loss or sudden void in a person’s life.
The nature of this response is most commonly emotional, but may affect a person’s physical, cognitive, behavioural, social and spiritual wellbeing. Grief can be expressed in many ways and can affect every part of our lives. Grief has no set pattern and can be experienced with a vast array of emotions, as each person experiences grief in their own way, like detachment, numbness, increased irritability, inability to experience joy. The list goes on and on.
Types of Grief
While grief typically follows the loss of a loved one, this is far from the only reason why people suffer from grief and loss. The experience of grief encompasses a complex set of emotions that may resonate with many other life experiences.
Let’s explore a few other ways a person may experience grief, like loss of:
Identity, role or affiliation
(For example: a job, or place in a group or family, moving house or retirement).
A sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being safety
(Often experienced by people fleeing violent or unsafe circumstances).
Autonomy and the ability to manage one’s own life and affairs.
(Loss of physical abilities or health status – for example a person suddenly wheelchair bound, or losing faculties in old age, or in isolation because of a pandemic).
Dreams or expectations, and dealing with hopes and dreams going unfulfilled.
(Relationships ending, miscarriages or being unable to conceive, career and personal goals unfulfilled,)
The death of loved ones, family members, friends, pets and admired people.
Changes in relationships
(For example: friendship breakdown, divorce, ending romantic relationship, changes to family dynamic – eg empty nesting.)
Generally speaking (as grief is complicated and changeable), and according to a Swiss American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a person is likely to transition through five common stages of a grief cycle. The length of time in any one stage varies. Exploring these five stages of grief and loss may help you understand and put into context where you are in your own or a loved ones grieving process.
The Five Stages of Grief
This common defense mechanism buffers the immediate shock or pain. During this initial stage it’s often too hard to address the loss. During the denial stage, you may pretend the traumatic event did not take place. For example, if you’re dealing with a relationship breakup, you may convince yourself that they’ll call you with a change of heart. You may also experience a sense of numbness, and life as you once knew it has irreversibly changed. When you’re ready, the feelings and emotions will resurface and your journey of healing will continue.
This stage involves masking the array of emotions that encompass grief and only displaying anger towards the traumatic experience and people around you. Anger can also emerge as bitterness, resentment, fury or rage. You may ask ‘why me?’. It’s common to feel anger toward the situation or person you lost. Coupled with this is often guilt for feeling angry, which can make you even angrier. If you become aware that your anger is pain, it will help you through this necessary stage of healing.
This stage encompasses a type of thinking that revolves around the “what if” statements that often follow a traumatic experience. Due to the intensity of grieving emotions, individuals may wish things were different, or that an event did not happen. This may cause them to “bargain” with themselves or others, expressing the want for the past.
This stage is similar to other emotional stages of grief, however it is a much less expressive stage. Depression is known as the “quiet stage” of grief, in that the emotions experienced are usually isolating, sad or lonely, even in the event that the trauma is becoming more accepted. As overwhelming as it may feel at this point, this stage is a necessary part of the healing journey.
This stage recognises the reality of the traumatic experience and the effects it has had on oneself. Thus, allowing the experience of coping with the movement of everyday life to be more accessible. You may transition from acceptance and then back to another stage of grief. This is also a natural part of the healing journey.
Following a traumatic event and while you’re going through the grieving process, it’s important to recognise some ways to deal with grief and loss. This could be as simple as going for a walk, or as helpful as seeking professional support.
Here are some strategies to effectively deal with grief and loss:
1. Ask for help
Grief can become overwhelming as it begins to build up inside you, releasing some of that emotion through talking to a counsellor or support person may help ease some hardships of the grieving process.
2. Talk to friends and family
Talking to loved ones is a great way to realise you’re not alone. Accepting offers of help, sharing memories, or spending time with others may help get your mind off the grief you feel.
3. Do things you enjoy
While you may not feel like it, doing an activity which you enjoy, can make you feel a little better and provide a necessary distraction, to help remind you of the importance of happiness and joy in your life.
4. Take care of your physical health.
Grief can be exhausting and consuming, and completing everyday tasks or maintaining your health and hygiene may feel like too much effort, but exercise and healthy food can help you get back into a routine and naturally improve your mindset.
5. Don’t hold yourself to a timeline.
There is no one way to grieve, everybody will take a different path. Don’t feel like you “should” be doing anything differently or moving at a different speed.
Grief is something that takes time to work through. Grieve your own way, acknowledge it and honour your loss. It’s helpful to be prepared that certain life events or social situations may trigger memories or sadness. This is when you can pull out some pre-prepared coping strategies from your toolbelt that work for you.
Most importantly, look after yourself, try relaxation techniques, focus on physical health and do things that are enjoyable. Remember you don’t have to and shouldn’t grieve solely alone. As hard as it is, please let others help you. Explore your options for professional help. As an experienced psychotherapist we can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles in your grieving process.
Do you need Counselling Support?
If you or a family member are struggling with grief and loss, and seeking counselling support, contact Kylie Lepri for a FREE 15-minute phone call to discuss your situation and find out she she can help. Call us now on 0404 032636 or book your free phone call online.
The team at Kylie Lepri Counselling are all registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists. Specialising in Individual, Relationship and Family therapy, providing support to clients all over Australia. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter below.