Grief is rarely just about one specific event. Rather it is a collection of all the losses we have experienced in our lives. There are many different theories about how individuals grieve. The truth is while there may be some similarities in the grief process, each of us experiences grief in a vastly different way. You see, your losses are connected to your past losses and no one can ever accumulate the same losses as you. You have had a unique set of attachments to loved ones, to objects and to experiences. Your grief is unique.
Grief becomes very complex when we have not healed previous wounds. Sometimes feelings of loss can be overwhelming and appear unmanageable. Additionally there is research that shows our compounded grief doesn’t begin with us but with our ancestors. Just because we may have multiple experiences of loss doesn’t mean we cannot move forward in a healthy way. In fact, the majority of adults find healthy ways to process feelings of loss.
How do we know whether or not grief and loss are a problem?
Grief becomes complicated when we experience some of the following:
Anger, irritation or episodes of rage
An inability to focus on anything but the death of a loved one
Focusing intensely on reminders of the deceased or an excessive avoidance of such reminders
Intense feelings of sadness, pain, detachment, sorrow, hopelessness, emptiness, low self-esteem, bitterness or longing for the deceased's presence
Problems accepting the reality of the death
Self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse
Suicidal thoughts or actions (If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to speak with a professional counselor!)
Grief Isn’t Just About Death
Grief does not have to be based solely on the loss of a loved one. We can grieve any relationship, the loss of a job, we can grieve the loss of physical locations such as being misplaced by government turmoil or economic decline that devastates communities. We can grieve the loss of our identity due to an illness or injury. And we can grieve the loss of unfulfilled dreams.
Some things that complicate grief even further include:
When loss occurs due to a traumatic event such as an accident or natural disaster
In the event of multiple losses happening at once(ie you lost your home, your job and your health in a span of 3 months)
When your loss is unrecognized by your community (such as HIV/AIDS patients in the 80s who were shunned by their community).
Some Ways To Begin Healing From Grief/Loss
Below is a list of 10 things to do to begin healing:
Find a supportive ear. Whether this be a professional or a trusted friend, find someone to validate your experience and be present with your emotions.
Find a creative outlet such as journaling or painting. Many people find relief in emotional expression to heal from grief. Refrain from judging your creations and focus more on the process.
Engage in gentle exercise such as walking, yoga or Tai Chi.
Try acupuncture. Many people report relief from sadness and depression when they use acupuncture as therapy for grief.
Find a grief therapist. Even short term therapy can be a powerful tool for healing from loss.
Find a way to memorialize your loved one or experience. You may want to develop an alter in your home or go to a special place to reflect on your memories of the person or experience.
Find an online memorial site to pay tribute to your loved one.
Be patient with yourself and your experience. Try not to be critical if you are not feeling yourself right away.
Read a book on grief and loss such as Healing After Loss.
Take 3 minutes of reflection and quiet each day to be thankful for the relationship and to set an intention to heal.
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