Grief and loss happens over time and involves one going through a number of feelings from denial to overwhelming sadness. We may go through the various stages but they do not happen in order. This can leave us bewildered, confused, and feeling trapped. The process of grief over a loss is known to take much longer than was thought at one time. Some types of grief only last for brief periods of time when we are not strongly bonded to a particular person. When the loss is very personal to us it take a much longer time for it to resolve. Each of us experiences grief in different ways. What upsets some does not affect others in the same ways. At other times the experience is totally reversed. At times grief gets more complicated because of unresolved issues related to the loss. For example, thee loss of a close loved one actually offers us a time to examine, and experience, those issues that we had previously kept from our consciousness. However, we must feel in order to heal rather than trying to do everything to avoid these feelings. Wishing the emotions would just go away ends up only delaying the grief and making the experience ultimately more difficult. Research has finally come to realize that the process of grief lasts much longer than we had expected. Some find that they are functioning better after a year yet find themselves beset by “waves of grief and emotions” that over-take them without notice. These “waves of emotions” can be overwhelming and filled with sadness. At the same time “the waves” offer us a time to “re-experience our lost relationships” and think them through as part of resolving some unresolved issues. In a sense, grief is a connection to the person or experience that you have lost. Many people find themselves experiencing these “waves of connection” ten or more years later and longer. In many ways, these “connections” are what makes us human and allow us to “experience” our lives. We can come to value these connections because they keep those important people in our lives even after they are gone. In some ways grief researchers have suggested that we come to cherish these “waves of connection” as something special in our lives. It says you are a human being who cares. We grow through people and our relationships. Why would you want to let go of that completely. Our history is what we are made of. It is for this reason that we many times like to have personal belonging of the one we have lost. They become valuable because they remind us of that person. When we “experience the waves” that come without warning, we can come to know that we have had a special person in our lives. It is also what Freud it “the working through process.” The way we resolve things is by working it through over and over again as part of “moving on” to new levels in our lives. We can’t avoid it, even though it hurts. Actually, psychologists and counselors worry about those people who don’t grieve. Having feelings and experiencing the emotions of life is normal. Grieving can be painful, but it is part of the growth process and a requirement for being, ultimately, human.
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It takes an enormous amount of energy to remain stuck in chronic grief, resentment or sadness. Often, we try to resist these genuine emotions by keeping a stiff upper lip or a cheerful demeanor when we’re really seething inside. It can be made worse by worries we have ‘pushed back’ in our mind, old traumas and unresolved past issues. However, the present journey of grief can offer us lessons we can grow from. Instead of trying to talk yourself out of how you feel, harness the courage to acknowledge uncomfortable emotions. Accept your regrets, anger or sadness without remorse. Just let it be. Then let it go. Not only will your energy resurface, but you also will find sensible solutions to many of the to many dilemmas in your life your discomfort will evaporate like mist in the sun. Every thought in our heads is accompanied by a cascade of biochemicals called neurotransmitters. In general, thoughts that are optimistic, grateful and loving result in “feel good” neurotransmitters called endorphins. The same “feel good” chemicals are produced during exercise, love making and meditation. By contrast, thoughts that are fearful, angry or hopeless increase levels of stress hormones, which make us feel tired, anxious, sad, overwhelmed, and irritable.
Learning to focus on the positive can do wonders for energy levels as well as improve health and longevity. Research by Dr. Becca Levy, Ph.D., of Yale University shows that positive thoughts energize the body to walk faster. Furthermore, Levy found that an upbeat attitude toward aging extends life expectancy. It can provide the same kind of benefit as exercise, not smoking and having a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Other research suggests that when people train themselves to feel love and gratitude regularly, their blood pressure normalizes, their heart function stabilizes and they have more energy. Learn to look at life challenges and struggles as challenges that will positively strengthen us over time. Avoid thinking that problems, or difficult and unfair situations, are useless and make no sense. Focus instead on how this can lead one to growing and developing emotional, physical, and spiritual strength over time. One way to practice a positive attitude is by keeping a “gratitude journal”: Every day, write down three to five things for which you are grateful. Another strategy is simply to take notice when you fall into a “poor me” or martyred state of mind. Then do all you can to turn those thoughts around. Avoid thinking about the dramatic negative traumas/situations; focus instead on how these are normal learning experiences that will strengthen us. Seeing it as a positive gives one excitement and hope that is focused on the future rather than on the suffering of the present times.
Grieving the Loss of a Parent
When death happens in a family, it seems to change everything. Everyone must make adjustments, work through their grief and loss, and figure out how to continue on life’s journey in a new and different way. However, when a parent dies, regardless of their age, something very different happens. It is really difficult for anyone to really understand how one can feel at the loss of a parent unless they have gone through it themselves. However, with the death of a parent, whether they are young, middle age, or elderly, the emotions experienced by the family is the same. These emotions are “intense and overwhelming” and tend to impact everything. Each of us handle it differently depending on the meaning that our parents had in our lives and the “role” we played in their lives. Sometimes men handle it differently than women probably because women tend to have stronger attachments, and more defined roles, in the lives of their parents than men. The quality of the family ties, issues of family dysfunction, and the parent’s response to us makes all the difference in how the loss of a parent affects us. There is no one way for a person to experience loss. Some we feel more than others but that does not suggest that one type of loss means any less to us. It is a time of “Role Reversal” with the adult children now having to assume the parent role where they need to make adult decisions for the good of the parent. This is hard and can make one feel guilty for having to make “tough Decisions” at a difficult time. It is critical to know that this “Role Reversal” can be shared among family members many times and the burden does not have to be carried by one the adult children. It is important to share these issues together. The “crisis of the Role Reversal” is that it comes at a time when other crises may well be happening and distracting you. However, we must hold on to the reality of life: There is never a good time for a crisis. Role Reversals take strength to handle. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one that must be done for the realistic needs of the family, parent, etc. What happens in families when a parent dies, is lost to death is that there is a “shared tragedy” that overwhelms everyone–our family, the extended family, and the community. However, these emotions do not necessarily create a “tighter bond” among the surviving family members because it is difficult to experience these emotions. Further the parent may have been the “tie” that held the various extended family members together. The sense that the “parent was always there,” or that “there was always this place called ‘home’ that one could turn to for memories and a sense of security” is no longer there. This makes the loss even greater and more intense. The death of a parent brings up memories of unresolved crises and issues, problems, struggles, and “stuff” we have “stuffed away.” Suddenly these emotions come up and we find ourself responding emotionally in ways that are not “the norm” for us. However, it is a time that some healing and personal awareness can happen. Very often, instead of holding the family together the emotions become so “tight” that the bond “snaps” or brings up old unresolved emotions. Some research studies marital and family difficulty and instability is common within months after the death of a parent. Some families handle it different all depending on a number of issues including “old issues,” issues of interaction throughout life, and issues of “mutual dependency.” The problem is that it is very difficult to give “equal comfort” when the family is experiencing “equal grief” about what happened. “Everyone is needy and dependent in some way.” If one becomes too tired or overwhelmed and falls under the burdens, the other is left having to pull that share too resulting in growing resentments and “voiced anger” and irritability. This results in the overwhelmed and exhausted first mate becoming resentful because they are not treated sympathetically by the other mate or family member who may not quite understand why this is “such a problem” for their spouse, sibling, etc. As a result, “common grief” is not the best adhesive cement for a marriage because it is difficult to lean on something that is just as “bent” over the burden of the loss. The “awful vacuum of death” overcomes us and creates a chasm in our relationships. As a result, we have to become more realistic about what it is that we expect from each other. It is not easy to be a “tower of strength” to the other person when one is grieving themselves. Couples might resent that their mates, family, etc., cannot “be there for them,” “understand,” and “be strong” so they “bite back, fight, and get upset with each other making the hurt even deeper and sadder.
Recovering from a Loss
It is critical to acknowledge that something terrible has happened to the family that will affect everyone from this point forward. This is true even if we did not have the best parents or childhood experience! It raises the question of “now what” and how to live without the person, the drama, the struggles, the good and the bad times It is understanding that there is “no right way to grieve” or when “it should be over with.” It is also critical to be aware how vulnerable everyone is feeling at this time no matter how “good” they look or act. Anniversaries of the death, anniversaries of birthdays, and other events, will bring up “waves of grief and loss” that can be overwhelming and difficult. It is important to remember that these “waves” are our attempts to “stay connected”. We must remember the positives and the emotions that we don’t have to let go of, as long as we can also live life to it’s fullest as our parent would want us to to. We need to talk and talk and talk in order to get out emotions and feelings of emptiness out and expressed so that they don’t overtake us. However, it is also important to not always talk this out together. Reach out to a friend, a therapist, and someone else so that they can “share the burden.” This helps to take some of the pressure off the other grieving family members who will also need to do the same for their own sake. Remember, grief is not an automatic process that is cut off at “some respectful time or interval.” This type of loss is “long term anguish.” To bury a parent is to see a part of yourself, your eye color, your dimple, your sense of humor, your past history, security, feeling you have a “place to turn to,” and hopes/desires, being placed into the grave. Like losing a child to death, the loss of a parent can also be one of life’s harshest experiences, forcing a change about life, the future, change in roles, and the loss of security in a base to “turn to” when feeling unsure. When a parent dies, we don’t just mourn the loss of them, but we also mourn a bit of our own immortality that we are not faced with as “the senior family members, etc.” and what this means for our future. It raises the question of “NOW WHAT” and we are not sure how to answer that easily for many personal reasons. Understand that the first feelings are numbness and a sense of not knowing what to do, having others telling us what to do, and not being able to think clearly for a while. With time one will return to functioning even though the loss will always very real and with you for the rest of your life. However, it is critical, over time, to understand that one is not abandoning the dead person by coming back to life, laughing again, and living each day with joy and excitement. It is good to enjoy life. Enjoying life does not mean that one has forgotten their family member, etc, even though this is a very difficult truth for person, or others in the family, to accept. Grief is a “process” that does not happen over night where one awakens one morning feeling good and fine. Other changes seem to affect us differently. We become upset with the constant changes and pressures in our lives knowing that there is no “base” to turn to to help us feel secure when we are overwhelmed. One can carry their grief with it not having to carry you! It is really, in the end of this long process, understanding that there is still a future that can be positive for all concerned. In the meantime, it will hurt, feel bad, and be overwhelming. This is normal and to be expected. Acceptance takes time and no one can rush it. No one will fully understand it as much as you do. We are to remember that though we do not understand it all, we need to develop our future even in the face of tragedy and great loss. The loss of a parent offers us a chance to examine our life in detail and deal with the meaning of existence. This is at times upsetting but it also allows for asking what you want to do with the rest of your life and how you can make changes that will be important to you as a person in life.
Types of Losses
- Loss of a Loved one through death, divorce, separation OR even the death/loss of a pet animal.
- Loss of long-held beliefs about our being invulnerable and immortal, because we have suffered a trauma, injury, illness.
- Loss of ideas or beliefs about one’s world, self, or others.
- Loss of ability to do things that we once did before.
- Loss of our belief that we can control things by ourselves.
- Loss of our identity when we lose a job.
- Loss when children develop to different stages/leave/marry/etc.
- Loss of any perceived type.
Types of Reactions to Losses
- Anxiety, protest, moving faster, trying to control more (the Protest Phase).
- This can be followed by depression, despair, and being passive and withdrawn (the Detachment Phase).
- This is followed by being more hesitant to do much, avoiding, anger, conflicting feelings about attaching again, “I don’t need you anyways feelings,” and anger at the lost person, ability, body, other (the Dissociation Phase).
- We experience different losses in varying ways, depending on the meaning of that loss in our life, and the time in our life’s course that it happens (the Differential Impact Phase)
Types of Consequences of Interpersonal Loss
- Separation and bereavement losses highly impact our emotional and health status in negative ways.
- We may want to “deal with it right now and confront the situation” to work it through.
- Many times, we just want to run away and not feel the feelings anymore even though we know that impulsive decisions at the time of a loss/crisis are usually not very good ones (i.e., new relationship, new pet, new home).
- We think it will be better if we “get away”. However, we really just don’t want to feel or think about it anymore.
- Sometimes a delayed response allows time to shore up defenses before dealing with the difficult questions.
- However, putting it away too long may make returning to dealing with it much harder and more fearful.
- If we see ourselves as a victim, this adds to a sense of being weak, helpless, and not in control.
- We lose the sense of meaning in our lives, are no longer over-optimistic, and fear the future.
Types of Normal/Healthy Recovery
- Search for the meaning in the experience, i.e. The greater meaning.
- Try to regain mastery over the event, problem, loss, injury.
- Try to do something that helps you view yourself as handling the problem, illness, injury, which enhances your self-esteem.
- Allow yourself to cry, fall-apart, grieve — as a strength!
- See yourself as being transformed by the experience.
- Talk about it, and Talk about it, early on — don’t run and hide in anger, trying to be strong, and not facing it.
- Re-grieve old losses from the past — like childhood — to gain mastery.
- Remember, the only way to heal is to feel!
- In the end you will have learned to how to survive in the face of the anxiety over loss.
- This allows you to become a stronger person, but it does not change the loss because that was real. Yet you survived and that is what is important.