January 23, 2013

Grief Recovery: Moving Beyond Grief and Loss

Written by Rachel Eddins

Posted in Trauma, Grief & Loss and with tags: grief and loss

Grief Recovery two people at gravesite

There are all types of losses that you may experience throughout your life – loss of loved ones through death and divorce, loss of a pet, loss of a job, or even loss of a dream. Coping with grief and loss is difficult for everyone.

What Is the “Normal” Grieving Process?

To put it simply: whatever is normal for you.

Grief is complicated. And each person grieves in their own individual way, in their own time.

There is no “normal” timetable for how long it should take. For some people, the grieving process lasts only a few weeks or months. For others, it occurs over and over for many years.

Healing happens gradually. You can’t force it or hurry it. The process has to unfold naturally.

Everybody is different. Everyone has their individual personalities, qualities, emotions, beliefs, and state of mind. Some are more emotional when grieving, others more stoic.

One of the most difficult aspects of grief is having to adjust to living without our loved one. It requires adjusting to a new reality, adopting a new identity, and envisioning a new future.

Often, people who resist grieving do so because they don’t want to face this challenge. However, repressing your grief and not allowing yourself to go through your personal grieving process can be harmful emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Stages of Recovery from Grief and Loss

There are some predictable stages that most people pass through after losing something or someone important. In her work on death and dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlines five stages of grief and loss.

But you don’t have to go through them all to heal, neither do you have to experience them in consecutive order.

  • Shock and Denial: The first reaction to loss is often the inability to feel anything. This may include feeling numb, weak, overwhelmed, anxious, not yourself, or withdrawn.
  • Anger: Blaming yourself or others for the loss.
  • Bargaining: “If you’ll just let him live, I’ll promise to go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”
  • Depression: feeling deep sadness, disturbed sleep and eating patterns, thoughts of suicide, excessive crying.
  • Acceptance: Beginning to look for the lessons of the experience.

Kübler-Ross said that the grief and loss process involves experiencing all five stages, although not always in this order. She also said that people often cycle back and forth through a number of the stages before coming to the stage of acceptance.

If it feels like you are “stuck” in one of these stages, counseling for grief can help.

Kinds of Losses

Some examples of significant losses are:

  • Loss of a person through death
  • Divorce
  • Job Loss
  • Loss of a body part though accident or surgery
  • Loss of an ability, such as blindness
  • Loss of a friend who has moved
  • Loss of everything familiar when you move away
  • Loss of a dream or imagined future when life circumstances change
  • Infertility

Each kind of loss affects each person in a different way, but the recovery process usually follows.

Recovering from Loss: Some Key Points

1. You are responsible for your own grief and loss process. No one can tell you how to grieve, and no one will do your grieving for you. It is hard work and you must manage the process by yourself.

2. The grief and loss process has a purpose. It is to help you learn to accept the reality of the loss and to learn from the experience.

3. Remind yourself that your grief will end. You will not feel like this forever. You will heal.

4. Take care of your health. Grief is extremely stressful, and it requires energy to manage the stress.

5. Talk about the person who is no longer in your life. People sometimes avoid talking about the loss as a denial mechanism. However, this prolongs denial and the grieving process.

6. Take time to be alone. In the days and weeks following the loss of a loved one, there is often a flurry of activity with many visitors and phone calls. Added to the stress of your loss, this can be completely exhausting. People will understand if you don’t answer the phone for an afternoon or go to your room and close the door for a while.

7. Maintain a normal routine if you can. You have enough changes in your life right now. Try to get up in the morning, go to bed at night, and take your meals at the same times you usually do.

8. Ask for help. You will need it. If you don’t want to be alone, or if you want someone to take you somewhere, it is okay to ask. People do not expect you to be self-sufficient right now.

9. Let people help you. People want to help because it gives them a away to express their feelings. Staying connected with people is especially important now, and accepting help is a way of staying connected.

10. Keep a journal of your feelings and experiences during the grief process. Writing about your feelings helps you express them, rather than keeping them inside. It also gives you something to remember and review in the future, which you will appreciate.

11. Avoid making extreme life changes after a major loss. Don’t make any important decisions until your life feels more balanced. It can be tempting to make some important changes right after a major loss as an effort to feel more in control. If you can, put off such changes and decisions until later.

12. Don’t hurry your grief process. People sometimes want to put their feelings and memories behind them because they are painful. But grieving takes time, and there are no shortcuts.

13. Remind yourself that although grief hurts, it will not harm you. Grief is painful, but you will survive and even grow from the experience.

14. Expect to regress in your recovery process from time to time. This is normal. It may happen unexpectedly, but it probably won’t last long.

15. Acknowledge the anniversary of your loss by taking the day off or doing something special.

Have supportive people ready to be with you. It could be a difficult day and it’s better not to be alone.

The more significant the loss – someone especially close to you – the more intense the grief will likely be. Some feelings of grief are so strong; they won’t go away.

This is when grief counseling can really help.

If you have become so disabled by your loss that your ability to cope is non-existent, it’s time to consider grief counseling to facilitate the continuation of the normal grieving process.

The Power of Words to Help You Cope with Grief

We normally think of language as a tool to describe reality.  Houston council research on grief points to the use of language as a tool to construct reality.

What is it about words that gives them so much power?  Is it that our choosing, our writing and our saying of the words actually alter our thinking, our actions, even our feelings?

Is it because we can choose them with such intentionality to invent the future, to reinvent ourselves? I experienced this after my father died.

I kept expecting the sense of loss to finally seize me by the throat and hurl me to the ground.  But I watched to see what my feelings would actually be, and I observed my thoughts to see how they affected me.

I would have a lovely memory of my father—so vivid it almost felt as if he were in the room with me.  If I told myself, “I’ll never see him again,” I would be upset.

Then I would have the thought, “But, you just did,” and I would laugh and be grateful for the connection.  I very quickly discovered that “he” did not “go away,” that somehow he was/is a part of me that is so deeply ingrained that I cannot be myself without experiencing his presence.  Observing and choosing my language was essential to my seeing this.

Words allow us to interpret our experience, to share it with others.  They give us tools for expressing goals and plans that give reality to our intentions.  They allow us to ask for support and to say what kind of support we need.  They allow us to protest when we need to protest, to confess when we need to confess.

We can no longer hold our loved ones in our arms but we can celebrate them with our words.  And words can affect our ability to heal when someone we love has died.

How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving

  1. Don’t try to get them to feel or be anything but what they are.
  2. Don’t reward them for acting cheerful or “like your old self.” This teaches them to suppress their feelings around you.
  3. Don’t avoid them. They need your support.
  4. Let them tell about the loss again and again, if they need to.
  5. Recognize that unexpected, perhaps inappropriate behavior is part of the grieving process. It means the bereaved person is moving forward.

How Can Grief Counseling Help Pull You Through?

A good support system is vital to help you deal with a great loss like the death of a loved one. Whether it’s family, friends, or a grief counselor, you need to express your feelings to someone.

If your grief is so strong and unrelenting that it won’t let go or it keeps getting worse with time, you need to go beyond the help of family and friends. You need a competent grief counselor in Houston who can help you work through the intense emotions and heal.

Grief counseling takes into account that each experience of grief is personal, unique, and complex. A grief counselor can tailor your treatment to your specific needs and circumstances. They will help you to face the overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss so you can fully grieve.

Grief counseling aims to help you accept the reality of the loss, work through the pain of your grief, and adapt to a new way of life, cultivating new connections. This involves talking about the deceased, dwelling on the circumstances of their death, and experiencing sadness and anger.

It also includes helping you to de-traumatize the memories you may have surrounding their death, such as how they died or the moment you were told. It will guide you toward letting go of the guilt you may feel about having said or not said something.

And you will learn to see that letting go of all the pain doesn’t mean you’ll forget your loved one. To the contrary, grief counseling can really help you pull through the darkest time in your life. Then, you can truly honor their memory by living your own life to the full.

Next Steps

Contact one of our counselors for help on counseling for grief. Our therapists are available for face to face sessions as online therapy sessions in limited areas.

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

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