Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Coping with Loss

With the devastation in Japan there has been much loss: loved ones, homes, food; and grieving for these losses is normal - even needed.

There are all kinds of emotions that come flooding to you when you lose something or someone dear to you: sadness, fear, anger, guilt, loneliness.

I once lost someone very dear to me. I remember it as if it were yesterday. The pain of it all was excruciating, but the guilt ... the guilt was murder. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I do have some sources I will quote in the following article on how to deal with loss. And then I will share some of my experiences in coping with loss.

There is no right or wrong way ...

"There is no right or wrong way to grieve — but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. You can get through it! Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that eventually can strengthen and enrich life." (Source: Helpguide)

You can't deal with grief if you don't know what it is - the stages and the symptoms.

Grief is the universal way that one reacts to the pain of loss. Whether it is the loss of a home, safety, finances, health, objects you care about, a dream, a relationship, a friendship, or the life of a loved one. Everyone copes with their losses in many ways: some cry, some break down, others shut down completely and guard themselves from the world and anyone who can hurt them, others turn to their faith, and others turn to psychiatric help.

Myth vs. Fact

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

(Source: Center for Grief and Healing)

The Stages of Grief

There are five stages of grief:
  • denial;
  • anger;
  • bargaining;
  • depression; and finally
  • acceptance.
However, leading experts don't want you to think about these stages in terms of a check list, but more as a roller-coaster. Some people may go straight from one stage into the next. Many others will go back and forth from these stages, moving forward and back before they finally can reach acceptance. Just like everyone deals with grief differently, they also go through the stages of grief differently. There is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.

"While loss affects people in different ways, many people experience the many symptoms when they’re grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal – including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs." (Source: Helpguide)

Healthy ways to deal with loss

There are many ways to deal with loss, but not all of them are healthy for you.

You should always get support when dealing with your loss whether it be from a family member, friend, psychiatrist, or support group. There are always people who are willing to hear what you have to say.

Letting your feelings out, vocalizing them to someone that you trust can be a huge relief.

Grief can often feel very lonely, so turn to those that love you and want to help. Their love and support can be a momentary release of the burden that you are carrying.

Embrace your faith and religious traditions. No matter what your faith is praying, meditating, pondering scripture, going to your religious meeting place (church, temple or mosque), or even reading religious books can offer you solace, or even a temporary escape from your grief. I can honestly tell you that this will help.

My personal story of loss and dealing with grief
Years ago I lost someone I loved dearly. I knew that my loved one was going to be taken from me. The doctors gave them an expiration date.

The day before my loved one passed on, my mother asked me if I thought it would be better to go to a religious activity or visit my loved one. I chose to go to the religious activity thinking I'd have more time. The next day my loved one was in a coma and passed away.

For a very long time I was bitter towards my church. I blamed myself and the church for my not getting to say goodbye. But after years of living with that guilt, I embraced my faith, let go of the hate stewing inside me and opened myself again to the God I worship and his love. It did offer great solace.

When to seek professional help for grief

If you recognize any of the symptoms below that indicate complicated grief or clinical depression talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.

Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:
  • feel like life isn’t worth living;
  • wish you had died with your loved one;
  • blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it;
  • feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks;
  • are having difficulty trusting others since your loss; and/or
  • are unable to perform your normal daily activities.
(Source: Helpguide)

Grief is a normal process for everyone. For some it only takes a few months, or even a few weeks. For others it can even take years to cope with your loss. Just remember grief is normal, and you are never alone.

 "So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we're all alone, then we're all together in that too."