Exploring ways to deal with loss
When we lose something significant to our life, it is usually followed by grief and while grief’s start point is definite – at that point of loss, or the anticipation of the loss – the end point is nebulous. It may be this uncertain end point that contributes to the pain of grief and the fact that it is a process everyone goes through.
How something severe like grief can be spoken about in so many different ways adds complexity to moving through the process. We use expressions like “good grief” and “don’t give me any grief” without regard for the pain and uncertainty around grief or the losses that lead to it.
Losses that lead to grief extend beyond death. Grief applies to anything that comes to an end: life, marriage, relationships or friendships. It also applies to loved ones and entities like people, pets, finances, security, homes or jobs. People go through many instances of loss and grief.
This means grief is common and people cope with it in a range of different ways. As loss is experienced, people are shown ways to grieve and are also left to their own devices to figure it out.
- During childhood, our parents model how they manage loss and grief, whether consciously or not.
- As we become adults, get educated, experience life and participate in relationships, we adopt our own personalized way to manage loss and grief.
Another potentially confusing aspect of grief work is to figure out how long. The start is well defined with a terminal diagnosis, death or ending the relationship/job; unfortunately the end of grief work is not so definitive because it can be based on time, feeling or state of mind. Additional stress comes from asking “how long will this last?” Fortunately, you will know when you are done because you will no longer feel the need to wonder how long it will take or if you will ever be done.
There are many ways to work through grief. Some are healthy and productive while others are not and can create bigger or additional issues. Here are some ways to work through grief:
1. Sad – most people equate sadness to crying.
Sadness, like all emotions, is personal in how it is displayed. Some people are criers while others are not. Some express sadness through quietness, melancholy or thinking.
2. Relief – in some cases, a loss is viewed, at least in part, as a relief.
Relief as a result of a loss is complex. This is a period of change and adapting when something like a long-standing or painful illness or bad relationship is over and there is a feeling of loss yet also a sense of relief from the stress.
3. Mad – loss often leads to feelings of anger which can bring outbursts.
If the focus is on an injustice or wrong, feelings of anger emerge. When anger is the result, the best-case scenario is that it acts as a motivator to create change and not just lead to a spiral of negative feelings.
4. Avoid – avoiding the emotions and pain is a common response.
Some people prefer to avoid the whole mess of grief and push the thoughts and feelings away so they don’t have to deal with the pain.
The commonality of the four approaches is whether the work to process loss, grief and change is being done or not. There is room for each of these approaches in the overall process. For example, avoidance is appropriate when someone is feeling loss but is heading to a volunteer event where they must be cheerful and upbeat. Anger is appropriate if you see an erratic driver after a driving accident permanently injured a loved one. The point is to use the different approaches to continue moving forward through the grieving process.
Like everyone else, I have experienced losses and my approach to each one seems to vary. Here are a few situations and the goals I’ve chosen to better process them:
1. Until my husband’s retirement from the RCMP, I was married to him and his job since the RCMP dictated shifts, transfers and locations. This “other partner” in our marriage called the shots. That means we moved when they told us to move. I experienced loss and grief every time we had to leave our friends and lifestyle. I tried to balance the sadness of leaving with the excitement of a new adventure but the sadness often outweighed that excitement.
Goal: Keep special friends in our life no matter where we live.
2. My mom passed away suddenly in 2007. Over her adult life she had many health problems and her last ten years were heartbreakingly painful and unpredictable. After her death, I was sad for a long time and cried often as I missed her terribly and I played many wonderful memories through my head. As much as I missed her, I had to accept that she was no longer suffering. It is a hard balance but when her needs were the focus instead of my loneliness it became easier to grieve.
Goal: Find balance between missing my mom and using the wonderful memories as a means to remember and lessen the pain of missing her.
3. Since we moved often because of the RCMP, I had to leave a job I loved. It was my dream job – wonderful and appreciative clients, opportunities for travel and initiatives to further my learning and career. A transfer was not possible so I left the job feeling both sad and mad.
Goal: Incorporate what I learned from that job into my next position, which ended up being my own business!
There is no one way to grieve and no right way. Your grief is moving in the right direction as long as the pain is getting easier to manage and you are incorporating the loss into a healthy life, whether it be through learning, lessening guilt, increasing awareness or figuring out lonely. Here are some tips to help you move through the process in a healthy way.
1. Focus on the memory of yesterday, not the pain of today.
Enjoy great memories rather than the negative thoughts of loss you might be feeling today.
Mom made the best desserts and always brought the family together for Sunday suppers.
I will never have another one of my mom’s desserts or enjoy a Sunday supper the way she used to host them.
2. Remember the little things, not just the big things
Enjoy the small, quaint and unique features of mini-memories rather than needing an elaborate story or outcome.
During a recent pedicure, the esthetician used her baby finger to steady her hand while painting my toes. My mom used this technique because she was a ceramist and talented painter of many crafts. This small, unexpected experience was a positive memory to enjoy.
3. Share the change with people, not just the tragedy
It is important to tell others of your loss so they have an update on your life. Share the impact this loss has had and what you are doing differently now.
Even though I miss my mom, I regularly gather people around my dinner table and make her recipes.
4. Cry, scream and write
Spend the time to express your emotions so they don’t just stay in your head, heart or gut.
- Have tissue ready and find a special spot
- Go to the lake or open field and let out a holler to vent
- Have pen and paper to write your thoughts and feelings
Grief can be simple but it is not necessarily easy. Figure out what isn’t working in your life as a result of loss. Assess:
- What you can’t let go of
- What you feel guilty about
- What answers you need
- What you hold back
- What blame you lay on others
Consider ways to do things differently to fix any of the things that aren’t working. There are many options such as regularly writing in a journal, joining a support group, seeking professional counselling or grabbing an expert’s book that helps with the issue you face.
If grief is harder than you think it should be or is lasting longer than you’re comfortable with, speak up. Check in with a friend and share stories of grief and loss to learn possible ideas or strategies. Seek out help and try new things to help you process your loss, do your grief work and incorporate healthy change.