Surviving Your Losses, Thriving Despite Them
On a regular basis we lose precious things. We bypass an opportunity, deal with car failure, have a lapse in good health, or become estranged from a friend. Some losses are big, some are small, and some stir up deep feelings of grief. Natural disasters and wars produce losses on an even greater scale, affecting us, our families, countries, and humanity as a whole.
What happens when we are faced with losses, especially big ones? Death and dying pioneer Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined the stages of grief as denial, bargaining, anger, sadness/depression, and acceptance.
But the grief stages are not neat and orderly. Grief can be an emotional roller coaster, where you find yourself in acceptance, and then back in sadness—then back to acceptance again.
You’ve heard the old adage that time heals all wounds, but Elizabeth Taylor, MS, PsyD, clinical faculty member at Bastyr University and director of training for the health psychology program, believes that time won’t necessarily remedy one’s grief. Getting over grief depends on choices the grieving person makes, she notes. "Acceptance is a bigger part of the equation than anyone realizes," she says. "You have to consciously move forward from a loss."
While we often associate grief with someone dying, almost any kind of loss can produce feelings of grief. "Actually, there are over 40 life events that can cause the human emotion called grief," says Dr. Taylor. The top events on the list are the death of a loved one, divorce, estrangements, financial problems, and health issues. "For some people, the loss of a job can be as significant as the loss of a person," she notes.
While people do need time to experience their feelings, which can take years (and everyone has their own timeline), it’s common to get stuck in grief. Either constant grieving or reluctance to grieve is stressful and can take a physical toll on the whole body. It can affect your immune system, your sleep, your weight, and your energy levels. And if you have a chronic illness, grieving can worsen your condition.
To move forward from a loss, try the following:
Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Talk to your friends, a spiritual leader or a counselor if that helps. Remember, losses that aren’t big for someone else may be big for you.
If you are grieving the loss of a person, do something to honor the person, whether it’s a ritual such as planting a tree or some other daily action that honors the person.
Take action directly related to the loss. The woman who started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Christopher Reeve are examples of people who took positive action that helped them accept and grow from their losses.
Join a grief support group with a facilitator who encourages constructive action.
And remember, life is constantly changing, just like the seasons, so appreciate what you have right now. Let people know you love them!
You can find more grief resources on Web MD and at Griefwatch.
How to Help a Loved One
Not sure what to say to someone who’s going through a loss? Follow these guidelines:
Sources: Elizabeth Taylor, MS, PsyD; Griefwatch.com
Writer: Sydney Maupin, staff writer