By Kaye Brindley, ASW#94623
When you search the word grief in the dictionary the definition is: “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”(Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.) (1999). The definition of grief from a therapeutic perspective might be: the emotional process that involves sadness, anger, loneliness, regret, what ifs, fears and other painful emotions that you go through to get to eventual acceptance and adapting to life with the reality of the loss.
The problem is, both these definitions fail to consider that your own grief and loss experience is unique to you in its own way. Grief is the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral experience you go through after a loss. This loss can be small or big, tangible or theoretical (loss of a loved one, loss of a future relationship with someone, loss of a dream, loss of youth, etc.). Your experience is correlated to your resiliency, previous life experiences, belief systems, culture, values, social support, impact of the loss on you, and more.
It is unique to you and there is no set time frame or emotions we “need” to hit. Grief can be hurtful and helpful. It can feel like shock, despair, anger, fear, regret, sadness, gratitude, and eventually more and more acceptance. These, and many other emotions, can happen at any point, in any strength, for any length of time, and in any order. We know typically the grief process starts with shock and denial, and processed through (all over the place) other emotions to eventually get to acceptance. This doesn’t mean the other emotions go away, it just means eventually, once we process through our grief, we sit in acceptance most of the time. It is normal for us to get triggered upon anniversaries and holidays or other triggers.
It is important to not judge your process. You might feel numb or less emotions than you think you “should”, that is not a reflection of your character or personality, it is the result of a varied combination of things. It can be related to your past experiences, your level of closeness with the loss and the impact on you, your current mental health state and so much more. If you are concerned that you are not moving through your process or that you seem stuck, then working with a skilled therapist can help.
Grief can also be a way to honor losses, help us realize what is important in life, help us grow and increase our resilience, validate love we have experienced, and connect us to others. It is ok to lean on others when you are experiencing symptoms of grief. Symptoms may be present as physical, emotional, mental, social/familial, behavioral, and spiritual. We cannot predict how we will respond or when any of these symptoms will be present for us. When we are aware of our symptoms we can identify and use supportive skills and community to help us through them.
Some coping strategies for Grief and Loss include:
– Staying connected to friends and family.
– Talking with others who can understand what you are going through.
– Identifying and sharing your feelings to yourself, a trusted professional such as a therapist, friends and loved ones.
– Practice compassion and lack of judgment to yourself and others.
– Expressing yourself in creative ways; writing, art, music, or cooking.
– Personal Wellness: eating healthy, getting sleep, keeping a routine
– Preparing for hard days; anniversaries, birthdays, holidays.
– Joining a grief group or individual counseling.
Grief and Loss can catch us by surprise or find us in what may be predictable moments. Through either moment the reaction is no less impactful to our lives. We can plan and prepare for the time when we lose someone we hold closely to us, but we can never be fully ready for the emotional response we will feel. Grief is not only attached to death. Grief and Loss is present when we lose relationships, friendships, pets, careers, or anything meaningful to our lives. Grief counseling can be beneficial to help us through the beginning stages and help bring awareness to the support systems we have available or help us develop healthy ways to move through grief.
Clients often ask when they should seek help. The most important is if the grief triggers a mental health disorder such as PTSD, a mood disorder (depression or mania), anxiety attacks or is impacting your work, relationships or mental health in a detrimental way. If the symptoms are severe for more than 2 weeks, reach out to your PCP or a therapist. If your symptoms are moderate for more than 4 weeks reach out. (Severe= manic, suicidal thoughts, impulsive behaviors, consistent intrusive thoughts; moderate= feeling no motivation or interest in things, chronic sadness, chronic rumination or anxiety, mood instability most days).
Grief counseling through A Balanced Life is offered individually, for couples and families.
I also provide on-site crisis grief counseling for businesses who have experienced a sudden loss or crisis. In addition to my status as an Associate Social Worker, I am a Certified First Responder Counselor and understand the specific counseling needs for individuals and groups after a crisis.
Call A Balanced Life at (530) 544-1748 to find your best fit therapist to support you on your healing journey.