By Larry Beer, Ed.D., Practice Director
Loss can stem from many events: the death of a loved one, the ending of a valued relationship, relocation to a new community, job loss, retirement, physical health issues and many other life changes. Those experiencing a significant loss are likely to feel sadness, guilt, fear, anger and anxiety as they move forward with their lives. Their relationship with the people, places and experiences that they once felt very connected to remain but has been transformed. By this I mean that who and what they cherished and lost will never be forgotten, but the relationship will be experienced in a very different way.
Loss and grief usually occur as a result of events beyond a person’s control. This individual now begins a journey that they never asked to go on and which often tests his or her coping skills. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster when feelings change quickly. Often, healing takes much longer and is much more challenging than a person expects or is prepared for. At times such as anniversaries or seemingly out of the blue, intense and painful feelings can return. The power and duration of grief can overwhelm the coping skills of even otherwise emotionally stable people.
Many individuals have sought the assistance of our therapists to help them cope with their grief following unexpected losses or losses that they knew were coming but found to be more difficult to deal with than they had imagined. The two roles that we employ to help those seeking our assistance can be viewed as “innkeepers” and “guides.” As an innkeeper, we provide a comforting environment for an individual to reflect upon their life-changing experience. As a guide, we walk with a person through the grief process and assist them in finding meaning in their experiences and help them as they continue on their life’s journey.
By Tami Parke, L.L.P., L.P.C.
There is nothing more devastating than losing someone you truly love. You replay it time and time again in your mind. What could you have done differently? How could you have prevented what happened? You say to yourself, “If only . . .”
Everyone experiences grief alone. Each of us processes grief uniquely. There is no right way to process grief other than moving through it. Grief never goes away if denied its process. It hibernates within and eventually erupts, sometimes totally unexpectedly, and we can be left wondering, “What is happening to me?” This is why I truly believe we must go through the process of grief and allow it to be what it is. It’s also very important to be companioned in the process of grieving. There is great power in the validations of one’s feelings, thoughts and experiences when grieving.
Dr. Phyllis Silverman identifies three stages in the grief process. The first is labeled “Impact.” During this stage, a person faces the fact that the unthinkable has happened. Denial, anxiety and numbness are all common during this stage. She labeled the next stage “Recoil.” During this stage, a person goes through the difficult questioning process of living successfully following his or her loss. Finally, a person moves into the “Accommodation” stage. During this time, a person works toward integrating the loss into their present life. This may involve establishing new definitions of who they are, who their family is and even what their community is.
Our culture sometimes gives us the impression that when we lose someone, we should “get over it” as soon as possible. However, there is no timeline, no right time, no definitive time when one should be done with grief. When you lose someone you love, you have to completely redefine what life means for you now, and that takes time. Counseling during the process of grief allows you to be companioned through an incredibly difficult time. It also helps you redefine the meaning of life after the loss of a loved one.
During the grieving process, it is important to recognize that it’s easy to isolate one’s self or stop participating in normal activities. Although some time for reflection is necessary, it’s unhealthy to stop interacting with others. We need others during this time to help us process the grief. When going through the grieving process, it’s also important not to make any major decisions, given that the brain is not processing as accurately as it normally does.
Because it’s vital to understand the grieving process when any type of significant loss has occurred, professional counseling can be incredibly beneficial during this time. An understanding of the grieving process and how counseling helps can make this confusing and overwhelming process manageable not only for those who are grieving, but also for friends and family who are supporting the griever.