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  • Writer's pictureEugene Roginsky

Coping with Grief and Loss


Coping with Grief and Loss


Introduction

Grief is an inevitable part of life, a profound response to losing someone or something important to us. Whether it's the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, or another major life change, grief can feel overwhelming. Understanding and addressing grief is crucial for emotional and physical well-being. Let's explore how to navigate this emotional journey and find ways to cope effectively.

 

GRIEF: “Deep sorrow typically caused by the death of someone special or sudden life change.”

MOURNING: Expressions of grief.


 

TYPES OF GRIEF

·    Acute Grief: Occurs immediately after a loss and may persist for several months with intense pain.

·    Complicated Grief: Symptoms do not fade over time and can last for years. It includes feelings of guilt about moving forward or finding happiness, a deep sense of loss, and depression.

·    Integrated Grief: Daily pain diminishes over time. Occasional resurgences of acute grief may happen, especially around significant dates like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Individuals can manage their emotions of loss while continuing to live their lives.

 


FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF by: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Image by: www.healthcentral.com

FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF by: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


NOTE: Though these stages focus on the death of a loved one, similar stages are found in grieving the loss of a relationship.


NOTE:  There is no set time as to how long it takes to move through these stages. These stages are not linear.



STAGE ONE

Denial: The mind is grappling with pain, seeking a path forward amidst uncertainty. This period is marked by numerous questions, emotional flashbacks, feelings of overwhelm, and confusion, which are typical. It's a time when people ponder "what if?" scenarios. This process acts like a funnel, allowing us to process only the emotions we can manage at any given moment.


WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS:

·       Common thought: “This is not real. We still love one another. Our love is the only true love. This is only a temporary separation.”

·       “My spouse wants to leave, but she cannot be without me. She will return

·       “We can still be a family.”

·       Rewatching family movies, looking at photographs, etc.

·       Looking for signs. Example. “I was driving and heard the same song on the radio as the one when I met her. And, I happen to be passing the location of our first date. This means we will be together.”



STAGE TWO

Anger: During this phase, emotional expression occurs without the fear of vulnerability or intimidation. Individuals feel free to express their emotions without concern for how they may affect others. It's a time when judgment is not a worry. Anger may be directed towards healthcare providers, oneself, family, friends, or even the deceased in cases of loss. This process can lead to feelings of isolation as loved ones and support systems may withdraw unintentionally. It is important to note that anger can be directed inwardly or towards loved ones.

WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS

·       Frustration

·       Violence

·       Impulsivity

·       Anger directed at self

·       Intrusive thoughts

·       Thoughts of revenge


 

STAGE THREE

Bargaining: This stage emerges when we deeply experience our own humanity. It serves as a coping mechanism for feelings of helplessness. During this phase, individuals may turn to a higher power, seeking assistance and making commitments to alter their circumstances. It can be marked by intense sadness, where nostalgia may not evoke positive feelings. There may also be periods of ruminating on past interactions with the sick, deceased, or departed individual, often resulting in negative emotional flashbacks.


NOTE: In this stage, there may still be a lot of anger directed at the self and loved ones.


WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS

·       Nostalgia does not feel good. A lot of, “If only I could” thinking.

·       “What if we get counseling? I can change. I am different already.”

·       Rationalization. Example: “I was this way because … “

·       Religious bargaining. Example: “God if you help me get her back, I will never cheat again.”



STAGE FOUR

Depression: This is a period of deep sadness and despair. It's a time when individuals come to terms with the realization that nothing can change the situation. During this phase, people may begin to withdraw from their loved ones.


WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS

·       Withdrawal from loved ones. Withdrawal from parents, friends and even children.

·       Poor appetite

·       Insomnia

·       Hopelessness

·       Helplessness

·       Poor self-worth

·       Chronic Fatigue

·       If children are concerned, feelings of fear, confusion, guilt, and shame may occur

·       A lot of nostalgia. Focusing on good times that happened and may never happen again.

·       Missing WHAT WAS LOST

·       Missing WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN


NOTE: Amplified if there are children.



STAGE FIVE

Acceptance: This is a phase marked by the cessation of resistance. Despite this, the pain persists, accompanied by feelings of sadness and regret.


NOTE:  The pain may never leave. Acceptance often means understanding that pain may become less intense, but this will not be a linear process.


NOTE: Everyone is different. Everyone’s relationship is different. Everyone’s pain is different. Everyone grieves differently.


NOTE:  It is okay not to be okay.


WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS

·       Taking ownership. Understanding that the relationship will never be the same.

·       Being comfortable with vulnerability.

·       Understanding that pain will be there, but there will also be times with no pain.

·       Desire to have other relationships.


SIGNS THAT SOMEONE IS GRIEVING

·       The individual changes his/her daily pattern of behavior.

·       The individual has a hard time focusing.

·       The individual wants to be emotionally isolated and appears withdrawn.

·       The individual looks sad, and agitated, and has frequent crying spells.

·       The individual is frequently sick, the personal living space is dark and in disarray, and there is a change in personal hygiene. 


 

SUGGESTIONS FOR COPING WITH PAIN

NOTE: There are no easy answers. We often want the pain to be over.


·       Remember that you are NOT BROKEN. Your emotions may stop you from living the life you were living before the loss, but your life will return. BE PATIENT AND BE GENTLE

·       Learn to forgive yourself. Be careful of the “what if” thinking.

·       Know that you are not alone. There is help around you. Psychotherapy, support groups group therapy, friends, family, and medical professionals.

·       Sit with your emotions. Schedule your pain if possible. Example: “I will hurt every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” “I will hurt every day for an hour.”

·       Do not stop moving your body. Movement helps with trauma. - Peter A. Levine

·       Scheduled Journaling. Write down your days. Write down feelings. Whatever is inside of you, bring outside of yourself.

·       In case of a loved one passing, organizing a grief group from connections one shared is therapeutic. Get support from good people. Create a Tradition Example: We will get together every first Tuesday of the month to think about our friend and have coffee together at 1:00 PM

·       In case of a loved one dying: Create rituals to make the grieving process easier.

Example: “I will write a book about my loved one and give it to my children/grandchildren. I will create a photo collage.”  

Example: “When I am ready, I will sit down with my children, and we will write a book about our life together. Let’s create a story and publish it.”


·       Monitor stimulant intake.

·       Get plenty of rest.

·       Have faith that ultimately there will be healing.

·       Grief work will lead to personal growth.

·       EMDR Therapy for traumatic images - Grief vs. Trauma

·       Be with loved ones. Try to surround yourself with love.

·       If there are children involved, be an intentional, present parent.


Memory Exercise when losing a loved one: 

Visualize the person you've lost in a tranquil and secure setting, using a third-person perspective. Recall moments spent together with this individual, focusing on cherished memories and their way of life. Imagine both of you appearing on a small screen together; observe for about thirty seconds. Gradually enlarge the screen and continue observing.


After another thirty seconds, envision your loved one on a giant movie theater-sized screen. Simply observe them, seeing their smiling face and imagining them at peace. Visualize yourself alongside them; take a deep breath and step into the scene on the large screen.


Feel yourself embracing them. Reflect on what you see, hear, and feel physically and emotionally.



HELPING FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES THROUGH THE GRIEVING PROCESS

·       Listen. Let the grieving person talk. Make your loved one feel like you are there if needed.

·       Avoid platitudes: Example: “She is in a better place.”  “He would not want you to feel pain.” “You should be happy the relationship is over. It wasn’t working anyway.” “You will be happy single in no time.”

·       Offer assistance with chores such as cooking, cleaning, household tasks, childcare, commuting, driving, making phone calls, organizing, etc. Keep in mind that people who are grieving may not know what they need at the moment. Instead of saying, 'Can I help you with anything?' try asking, 'Can I do ___ for you?' or 'Can I help you with ___ this afternoon?'"

·       Do not use “I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL” statements. It is okay to say, “I know you loved her very much.” “I know this relationship meant a lot.” “I know you love your kids.”

·       Be comfortable with silence. Sometimes being there means being present, not talking.

·       Avoid making comparisons.

·       Do not push faith.  

·       Don’t try to make the grief go away.

·       Trying to cheer someone up may not work, and may add to feelings of loss.

·       Ask and let the grieving person share memories. Sharing is healing. Ask questions.

 


Grieving Children
Source: www.positiveparentingsolutions.com

Children and Grief

Children may struggle to articulate their grief and may manifest it through changes in behavior. They require reassurance and open communication.


Parents should be attentive to the following signs and symptoms in children, and consider consulting a licensed mental health professional for support:

 

  • Changes in Appetite: Loss or increase in eating habits.

  • Emotional Responses: Sadness or emotional numbness.

  • Physical Symptoms: Enuresis (bed-wetting) and/or Encopresis (soiling).

  • Mood Changes: Euphoria or extreme happiness.

  • Academic Performance: Decline in school performance.

  • Behavioral Changes: Increased aggression.

  • Sleep Patterns: Insomnia or night terrors.

  • Cognitive Effects: Daydreaming and heightened distractibility.

  • Spiritual Thoughts: Talk about the afterlife or existential concerns.

  • Social Behavior: Displaying bullying behaviors.

  • Communication Challenges: Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings.

  • Personal Care: Poor hygiene or neglect of self-care.

  • Emotional Dependence: Increased clingy behavior.

  • Developmental Regression: Reverting to behaviors from an earlier age.

  • Repetitive Actions: Engaging in rituals or repetitive behaviors.

  • Concentration Issues: Inability to focus or maintain attention.

  • Restlessness: Agitation or hyperactivity.

 

Supporting Grieving Children

  • Provide honest explanations about the loss.

  • Encourage them to openly express their feelings.

  • Maintain regular routines to offer stability and security.

  • Consider seeking professional assistance or consultation when needed.



Conclusion

It's important to recognize that this article only scratches the surface of the complex journey of grief. Grieving is deeply personal and has no predetermined timeline. Embrace the process and allow yourself to heal at your own pace. Remember, it's perfectly okay to seek help and lean on others during this time. Moving forward with hope and integrating the loss into your life can foster new growth and inner strength.


Eugene Roginsky

Eugene Roginsky, LCSW, is the CEO of Bridge2Horizon Psychotherapy and Counseling Services in Lincolnshire, Illinois. With over 25 years of clinical experience, Eugene is also a keynote speaker and has served as a clinical educator for more than 20 years. Bridge2Horizon offers complimentary consultation sessions and provides both in-person and telehealth services.

For more information, visit www.EugeneRoginsky.com

 

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