Grief can take many forms, and people tend to deal with it in different ways. Grief is typically thought of in the context of the death of a friend or loved one. However, people can grieve in other ways, such as the loss of independence or during a major life transition. Another form of grief is loss without closure. This commonly occurs in those caring for a loved one who is living with dementia or another form of disability. They feel as if they are watching the person they once knew change or “slip away.”
Grief is the internal part of loss, or how we feel. The internal work of grief is a process, a journey. It does not end on a certain day or date. It is as individual as each of us. Grief is real because loss is real. Each grief experience has its own imprint, as distinctive and unique as the person we are losing or have lost. The pain of loss is so intense, so heartbreaking, because in loving we deeply connect with another human being, and grief is the reflection of the connection that has been lost.
Research has shown that most people can recover from loss on their own with the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits. Mourning the loss of a close friend or relative takes time, but our loss can also be the catalyst for a renewed sense of meaning that offers purpose and direction to life.
Coping with the loss may be one of the hardest challenges that many of us face. When we lose a spouse, sibling or parent, our grief can be particularly intense. Loss is understood as a natural part of life, but we can still be overcome by shock and confusion, leading to prolonged periods of sadness or depression. The sadness typically diminishes in intensity as time passes, but grieving is an important process in order to overcome these feelings and continue to embrace the time you had with your loved one.
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel okay or alright about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is a permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we will accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed, and we must readjust.
We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others, or take them on ourselves. Finding acceptance may mean having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our lives, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our loved ones. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships and new interdependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow and we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.
Everyone reacts differently to death and employs personal coping mechanisms for grief. Research shows that most people can recover from loss on their own with the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits. It may take months or a year to come to terms with a loss. There is no “normal” time period for someone to grieve. If your relationship with the deceased was difficult, this will also add another dimension to the grieving process. It may take some time and thought before you are able to look back on the relationship and adjust to the loss.
Human beings are naturally resilient, considering most of us can endure loss and then continue on with our own lives. But some people may struggle with grief for longer periods of time and feel unable to carry out daily activities. Individuals with severe or complicated grief could benefit from the help of a psychologist or another licensed mental health professional. Moving on with our life is critical.
Grieving individuals may find it helpful to use some of the following strategies to help them process and come to terms with loss. Talk about the death of your loved one with friends or colleagues. Avoidance can lead to isolation and disrupt the healing process with your support systems. Accept your feelings of sadness, anger or even exhaustion. Take care of yourself and your family. Eating healthy foods, exercising and getting plenty of sleep can help your physical and emotional health. The grieving process can take a toll on one’s body. Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Spending time with the loved ones of the deceased can help everyone cope. Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Anniversaries of a lost loved one can be a difficult time for friends and family, but it can also be a time for remembrance and honoring them. It may be that you decide to give donations to a favorite charity, like the Center for Healthy Aging. All these suggestions help us cope with grief and loss, what better way to add life to years!