Coping With Loss

wlcCopingWithLoss.jpgAll of us will grieve at one time or another. Grief is related to love and attachment; it is love under the condition of absence. Grieving is caring about someone who is no longer present. Loss, death and grief are part of the human experience. To grieve is normal; to not grieve is pathological.

We cannot change the fact of the loss; we are left with memories and feelings. For each, there will be a healing process that includes the process of grief.

Grief seems to take us through phases that come and go and often confuse us; not often clean or distinct. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined stages of grieving in her work with those who themselves were dying of terminal disease. While survivors don't necessary experience these stages in the same way, those left with the loss may experience similar phases and emotions.

The first stage is disbelief or denial. "It can't be me…!"

As the reality settles in, we find ourselves second-guessing, "If only …" a stage called bargaining. The loss leaves us asking why this life was taken from us. We want answers when all we are left with are questions.

Soon this gives way to the emotion of anger, also a stage of grief. We can be angry at our bodies for aging, at the situation, at the person who has died, or at God. Anger is not logical and it is not fair. It is an emotion that can be displaced on others because we don't know what to do with it.

This can give way to sadness and depression at our loss and our inability to control events or understand them. It is a feeling of helplessness…the lack of power to change things. It is very normal and healthy to cry over the loss of someone who meant a great deal to you…someone you cared about.

Eventually, with time and support, we hope to reach a stage of grief called acceptance. This means that you can remember the one who is gone with love and fondness, yet be able to share memories with a range of emotions. You don't forget, but you may be able to control when the thoughts and feelings come on.

When you are grieving because you have experienced a loss, it often helps to talk and share your feelings with peers, family and friends. That is part of the healing process. It is not easy. Time helps in healing wounds only if you are actively working on the grieving process. Active grieving requires talking out loud with others, not just thinking about it. Sharing good feelings with someone else makes you feel good. Surprisingly, sharing bad feelings with people often makes people feel better. In the book by William Worden, PhD, Four Tasks of Mourning he defines these as:

  1. Accept the Reality (and Meaning) of the Loss. This task requires coming to grips with the loss as real and understanding the meaning that the loss had for you. It requires acceptance of the loss and the value that loss will have for your life.
  2. Experience the Pain and Grief. Dealing with the emotional and physical impact of the loss requires one to experience this pain. It is impossible to lose someone or something that was important to you without feeling the pain. The intensity varies from person to person but the need to grieve remains universal.
  3. Adjust to an Environment in which the Deceased is Missing. In any bereavement, the loss is seldom clear-cut. This task involves adapting to the loss.
  4. Withdraw Emotional Energy and Reinvest it in Another Relationship. Many people misinterpret this task. In the case of the loss of a spouse, a friend or something meaningful; withdrawing emotional attachment doesn't change the memory or dishonor the individual. It allows one to live in the present rather than being stuck in the past. Loving someone else doesn't negate the love that was held for the deceased. This is a difficult task to complete.

Keywords: Death, Grief, Loss