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Help With the Grief Process

Unfortunately, at some point, most of our lives are touched by the loss of someone significant.  People tend to be very familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression/Sadness and Acceptance) and often they seek out therapy with me when they begin to feel “stuck” in one of these stages.  I am often amazed by how abnormal their grieving process seems to them while it is actually a completely normal reaction.  Our society has become one that values strength, which all too often seems to be defined as ignoring your actual feelings and moving on with your life.  Therefore, these people come to see me with a lack of compassion for what they are experiencing and an idea that they “should” be further along in getting over their loved one’s loss. 


I often begin our work together by helping the person to recognize grief as a process that occurs on a continuum.  Much like other changes in our life, we take time to adjust to them and come to terms with them.  In the beginning when the loss is fresh and we are overwhelmed, a lot of loved ones offer support.  Our fragile and mercurial moods are taken without a single eyebrow raised.  And while it is wonderful to have the support during this extremely difficult time, very rarely does the true scope of your loss set in until all the planning and initial frenzy is behind you.  Friends and loved ones want to help even after the initial shock, so my first piece of advice to anyone with a loss is to ask for help.  When people offer you assistance, they mean it.  They may just not know the best way to help and they don’t want to be a nuisance.  So think about what would really be helpful to you and ask for it.  If you don’t feel comfortable asking, find one close person to set up the help for you, but take the help.


However, months and sometimes even years after your loss it is perfectly normal to still be grieving.  Grief doesn’t ever completely disappear and that is not the goal.  The goal is to move from extreme pain and despair to the point where you can think about your loved one and cherish the wonderful memories they left behind.  While it would be nice to avoid all the pain and heartache this is not a realistic way to handle grief and will lead you to a place where you carry the grief around with you like a lead weight.  Instead, you must peel the band-aid off and allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of feelings, even anger with your lost loved one.  This is all a normal and appropriate part of the process. 


For people that struggle to move forward while experiencing grief my best recommendation is a grief project.  Grief projects come in many forms.  For most people it may be a journal where you capture memories of your loved one or a scrapbook where you capture photos and memories.  If you are artistic or creative it could be sketches of your memories or poems written about your loved one.  I have even had people do recipe books for their family members that include all of the special holiday things that their loved one made.  Any way you honor your loved one and work through your memories is a valuable grief project.  It keeps your loved one fresh in your mind and gives you a sense of purpose when you feel lost in a sea of grief.  While a grief project is designed to help you work through your feelings in a purposeful way, time is the one true healer.


Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to grief.  It affects different people in different ways and you cannot compare your grief process with that of others.  Be willing to process the grief rather than avoiding it and be open to accepting help from those around you.  If you accept that processing grief takes an unpredictable amount of time, and use available resources to help you process and grieve, you will find that life becomes more manageable and hopeful again.  If you ever feel “stuck” or need that extra boost to assist, know that there is no shame in asking  for professional assistance. 

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