Grief and loss

Keep these three things in mind: feel, deal and heal.

Feel – you will feel a wide variety wide range of emotions from anger to sadness to. Don’t try to push these emotions back. Give yourself time and space to feel these emotions

Deal (or process) – You can start to look at your emotions and see if they feel within the range of normal. Ask yourself, are they valid, are they healthy, are they true? are they logical? You might want to journal about them and reminisce over good memories.

Heal – healing doesn’t mean that you forget about the person. You can still think about the person without getting welled up or crying each time. These tears might still come many years later when you think about them but the pain gets less and less as you give it time. It’s really helpful to reminisce about the good times and good memories, and the good feelings that you received from doing things with that person. Think about other things that will give you the same or similar feelings that you had when you were with them. Then you can reconnect with a sense of yourself and values that you experienced when you were with that person.

Chasing joy 
the grief isn’t the whole thing – Andre Gregory
there is also art
the joy of creation even in the face of pain
if grief is all, there is no hope
but there is always hope
even in despair
the light shining
eliminating the dark
promising relief
hold fast
do not despair
in your loneliness
there is love

When human bonds of love and attachment are ruptured or broken through death or separation, our responses will vary from shock, numbness and disbelief to an emotional roller coaster that can have a profound disruption to the patterns of everyday life. Although bereavement reactions were thought to occur in broad phases and stages, these are no longer thought to be linear or fixed. There are many different nuances of the grief experiences that challenge the phase/stage notion of recovery. For most people, coming to terms with their loss and grief will also involve a search for meaning and a reappraisal of values and assumptions. In many ways, a major bereavement represents an identity crisis for the bereaved person. The fundamental crisis of loss comes out of not necessarily the loss of others, but the loss of self. Loss represents a change in circumstance where it is impossible to return to the way things were before. Traumatic loss is a more severe experience that devastates rather than simply challenges a person’s coping resources and is characterized by fear, anxiety, concerns about safety, and a range of other responses including insomnia, flashbacks and hypervigilance. Many people believe that the trauma symptoms must be dealt with first before the grief can be addressed.

Marjorie Allingham describes mourning as an undoing. Mourning is not forgetting… It is an undoing. Grief is a complex experience with social, psychological, behavioural and spiritual dimensions that change over time. Recovery from bereavement is an individual process and varies according to circumstances, characteristics of the bereaved person, and quality of available support.

Grieving tends to oscillate between focusing on the loss and at other times moving away from it. At certain times we may be heavily immersed in sadness and feelings of loss, while at other times we may feel more able to look at what we need to do to move on and rebuild our lives or those parts that the loss has disturbed or destroyed. We must find new ways of living in the world that in many ways involve a new sense of self.

Some (researchers) conceptualize four broad phases of response to loss and bereavement as:

  • shock, alarm, and numbness as you struggle to make sense of the fact of the loss
  • searching for a reunion with the deceased person, being attuned to reminders, pining, yearning and searching; preoccupation with the loss
  • disorganization and collapse of customary ways of being with yourself and with others
  • reorganization of one’s inner and outer life, learning to live with the changed reality

Attachment style and Grief

There is a connection between attachment styles and a person’s grief response. Your own attachment style will influence reactions to bereavement. A secure attachment is reflected in a basic assumption that I am protected, worthwhile and secure. An anxious ambivalent attachment weakens the sense of safety and the bereaved person feels the need to stay close to a greater power. A disorganized attachment, on the other hand, can lead to a lack of trust in others.

Working through grief helps people to risk investing in new relationships, purposes and projects. It helps to preserve their capacity to attach and to love again. The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love: it is, perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. (Dr Colin Murray Parks, 1996).

Practices such as keeping mementos and photographs, having mental conversations, and carrying out rituals to mark anniversaries and other special dates all help to establish a continuing bond with the deceased person. It is important to establish and strengthen your ongoing attachment to the deceased. You can stay connected to the person through dreams and through talking to or thinking about the deceased person.

Another important aspect is the importance of emotional health and social well-being of a surviving parent, so that a child will not lose one parent to death and the other to grief. Parents supported by others are more likely to be more effective in supporting grieving children. The ongoing relationship with someone who has died can be constructed in various ways. For example, keeping a diary, talking about the person with others, and even choosing a career in a helping profession can help to keep the memory alive.

The word adaptation rather than recovery can be an empowering concept that gives a grieving person hope that there is something that he or she can actively do to adapt to the death of a loved one.

The first task may be to tell the story of the death event. This helps to reinforce the reality of the death. The second task is to experience the pain of loss in all of its manifestations. The third task involves adjustment to an environment in which the person is missing. The fourth task is to emotionally relocate the person and move on with life. This also means to find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life. This can be achieved through reminiscence, sharing stories, and various kinds of memorial activities on birthdays, anniversaries and other important family occasions. Another way of looking at it is under a framework consisting of the tasks of mourning: recognizing the loss, reacting to the pain of separation, reviewing the relationship and revising the assumptive world.

Meryl Streep, speaking at the 2017 Golden globes awards soon after the death of Carrie Fisher, said, “take your broken heart, make it into art”. Shaun McNiff said, “Art heals by accepting the pain and doing something with it”. The healing capacity of art is a vital force in working with individual and collective pain and suffering.

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