Thursday, May 21, 2009

Processing Grief

Working through grief is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our lives. When we lose someone we love, whether through death, divorce or simply a relationship that ends, we can feel a great deal of pain and anguish. It may be helpful during grieving to be aware that there is a range of reactions, and that all may be part of the process.

Initially there is a reaction of shock at the severity of the loss. We may embrace denial in the form of, "Why is this happening to me?". Our feelings may be numb or we may not yet fully comprehend the loss itself. Wishing to return to life before the loss is a common response as well. The overwhelming pain has not been fully processed at this stage. Denial is our defense mechanism protecting our psyche from the full brunt of the loss.

Eventually we can no longer deny what has happened. At this point we may begin to feel angry. We may be angry at the person we have lost, angry with our higher power, angry with other loved ones in our lives for their perceived part in the loss. We may remain angry for an extended period of time as we grapple with the seriousness of what has transpired. Anger too is a defense against the overwhelming feelings of loss.

After a time of extended anger we may move into bargaining. We are trying to mitigate the loss. This is a time of rationalizing and trading. If we have lost someone we love we may attempt reconciliation even if it is against our best interest to do so. If someone has passed away we may attempt in vain to bargain with our higher power for their return.

When we have passed the stage of needing our defense mechanisms and are finally faced with the full brunt of our loss we face depression. We may feel incredibly sad, hopeless, numb, filled with despair or even suicidal at times. We are overwhelmed with grief and the loss of both the person, and the dreams and hopes we held onto in the relationship. This is an extremely painful and vulnerable time. We may need help at this juncture to cope with the extent of the loss. It is important that we allow ourselves to grieve and give ourselves time to heal our wounds.

Finally we come to acceptance. We cannot change what has happened. We take the best memories we have and continue with our lives. If we have lost someone we love due to divorce or the ending of a relationship this may be the time we come to terms with the facts. We let go of blame and retribution and begin the process of healing in earnest. If someone has passed away we enjoy the memories we have of the wonderful times we shared while they were on this earth. In this way we keep their memory alive in our hearts and keep them close to us in thought.

The transition from relationship to loss can be overwhelming and painful. We do not have to make the journey alone. There are support groups available at most major hospitals and religious institutions. There is support in counseling and online. Trying to handle grief alone may be overwhelming and lead to isolation and long term depression.

It is common to feel like we may not survive serious loss, but we will begin to feel better. We may find we have mostly sad days initially, but over time we will begin to have better days until finally we have settled into our lives again. With the help of our family, friends, support system and our higher power we will triumph over loss and once again feel a part of life.

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