How to Deal with Grief

| 21/01/2009

Imagine a man leaving a courthouse. It’s been fifteen minutes since his divorce was confirmed by the court. Suddenly, he will only have a right to visit his children every other weekend.

His eyes sting with tears; his gut is tight and heavy. He realizes he is so confused he has no idea where he parked his car…

Grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one as such loss will usually bring profound sorrow. However, grief can be experienced in the wake of many types of losses. Lost hopes and dreams – for oneself, for one’s children – can bring significant anguish, as we cope with changing life’s plans and the impact of things beyond our control, and are forced to mourn what might have been.

Major life stressors such as death, divorce, job loss, chronic, acute or fatal illness, and other traumas, will likely prompt the grief process. The death of a loved one leaves survivors with the task of coping with life devoid of that affection and companionship. When close family members die, there are also practical aspects of reorganizing life in the midst of mourning which can feel overwhelming. Divorce often presents similar demands such as restructuring childcare, housing, and finances while dealing with the emotional impact of loss of a once vital relationship.

When a person who previously had job security feels the sting of a lay off, the resulting loss of income can be a shock to families, as the worker deals with the loss of identity a position carries. Job loss likely includes anticipatory grief, which may come before stressful events as one copes with the sinking reality of financial and other difficulties to come.

Caring for someone who is ailing, such as persons with Alzheimer’s disease or chronic or terminal illnesses, is particularly likely to prompt anticipatory grief.

Feelings of grief may even accompany joy-filled events such as weddings and childbirth. Newlyweds and new parents may grieve a loss of freedom and the weight of new family responsibilities. As children leave home and start families of their own, parents who may have looked forward to independence may be surprised by the sorrow of the ‘empty nest’. Life events that carry the expectation of happiness but instead profoundly disappoint can be particularly distressing such as a miscarriage, or the birth of a special needs child.

Just as a myriad of circumstances may lead to feelings of grief, there is no one “right” way to grieve. There is not a single path to understanding or expressing the anguish of grief. Aspects of grief may include physical symptoms as well as feelings of guilt, sadness, hurt, frustration, anger, tearfulness, and helplessness. Often, sufferers have a feeling of numbness or a sense that life no longer feels real, or even ‘worth it’. Deep grief may include social withdrawal, volatility, and spiritual disillusionment, to the point of suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Recognizing that grief is a natural reaction to loss is an important first step. A person experiencing grief is not “going crazy” or “mad.”

On this day of National Healing and Unity (January 23rd), we can use this time to reflect on the national traumas such as the murder of Estella Scott-Roberts and Hurricane Paloma, and the individual traumas that we have experienced in 2008. It is an opportunity to focus on our spiritual well-being and determine what steps we can do individually and collectively to work towards healing our spirits and the spirit of our communities.

Acknowledging and talking about grief, and being accepting of support, are the two most helpful ways to begin putting the pieces of life back together after a significant loss or trauma. Clergy, professional counsellors, and your friends and family are all various support systems that may help you process what has happened and assist you in beginning to move forward in 2009.

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