Healthy Grieving and Coping with Loss Patterns

by on November 10th, 2014
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A friend who lost the love of her life shared recently that she had no idea that grief could be so pervasive or take so long to heal. I hold a degree in psychology and have grief counseling experience; none of that prepared me for the horrific and sickening vacuum that loss of a loved one left in my soul. Here are thoughts about coping with loss and helping others heal from their grief.

At 18, I lost my younger brother. Several years ago, I lost two infant daughters in stillbirth. I felt like something big and evil had sucked all my vitality and left me helpless and hopeless. I remember being in a tornado once. The winds were devastating. What was up came crashing down and what was down went swirling into eternity. The eye of the storm wasn’t peaceful and calm like they say, either. It was eerie and dead. That’s how grief felt to me: chaotic, terrifying and lifeless all at the same time.

Like a tornado, the only way out of grief is through it. As my friend discovered, this doesn’t happen in a month or a year. It happens a tiny bit every day for the rest of our lives. Friends and family, kind though they may be, don’t always understand this. There’s honeymoon period after the loss of a loved one. People send cards, express sympathy and offer help. After a month or so, however, people are usually getting tired of hearing about your loss. The expression of sympathy take on an edge and some may even express annoyance that the grieving person hasn’t moved on. As understanding as they were after the death, they seem to be that much less understanding with those who go beyond the expected “window” of grief.

A friend once called me to bring a meal to a mutual friend who’d lost a child. The meal organizer sighed irritably to me, “it’s been a whole month and she still doesn’t get out of her robe.” I quipped back, “good for her.” I think after loss, we spend the rest of our lives in our emotional bathrobes, particularly if we’re rushed through the process.

When a person dies, it’s permanent. No matter what you believe about the afterlife (or lack thereof) for this life at least it’s over. How can I “move on” from the loss of a loved person? Should I move on? She was part of my life and now she is gone. Can I fill that vacuum she left? It’s like the loss of a limb: without it, life is never the same as it was when I had it. I cannot replace it, only learn to cope without it. Only time can show me how and where the loss will impact my life. The changes I make may be positive, negative or just different; one thing is certain: I will not be the same.

If I put emotional expectations on myself about grieving: I shouldn’t feel angry, I should be healing faster and self-statements like that, I will retard my own healing. It seems to me that recognizing the loss, learning to accept the changes and giving myself permission to take whatever space and time I need to process is crucial. When I am patient with the grieving in my life, not enabling or making excuses for them, just giving them time and space, when I don’t expect them to get out of their bathrobe till they are ready, I think that’s the healthiest way to show compassion.

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