That old adage “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is much easier for the person saying it than it is for the person hearing it. As humans, the need to attach ourselves to something – be it another person, a pet, a career or even a home is essential. But, what happens if for whatever reason that attachment or connection is no longer available to us? The natural response to that loss is grief.
So, when it comes to grieving, what is normal and how do we cope with it? Well, let’s first make sure we understand what grief actually is. The most important thing is not to allow yourself or anyone else to put a judgement on your grief. Yes, you can grieve the loss of a relationship that only lasted a short time. Yes, it is normal to grieve the loss of a pet, and yes you can grieve the loss of somebody you knew and didn’t get along with. I had a client that grieved the death of a rock star even though they never met. The degree of loss is equal to the degree of attachment whether we are attached to the thing we lost or how that thing made us feel when we had it or thought we did.
Grief is a response to loss made up of a series of steps or stages. Although it is a process that occurs in a series of stages, it’s important to remember that not everybody goes through every stage and often times stages are repeated.
These stages are:
• Denial: Thinking “This isn’t happening” or “This is a mistake
• Anger: Sparked by feelings of helplessness or frustration once reality sets in.
• Bargaining: Trying to negotiate a deal with a higher power to change the circumstances or reviewing events to see what you may have done to prevent the loss
• Depression: Feelings of hopelessness and sadness over the loss that oftentimes prevent us from tending to the other things in life.
• Acceptance: The realization that things cannot be changed and that this is the new normal.
Even if you feel that you have moved through the stages of grief and are beginning to feel like yourself again, the process can be triggered by encountering memory sparkers. A memory sparker is anything that reminds you of the loss. It can be a place, a date on the calendar, a holiday tradition, a smell, a song on the radio or a whole host of other things. Being triggered by a memory sparker is not a sign that you are going backwards or that you will never recover. It is simply an indication that there is a bit more grief left to go through.
To help you move through the stages of grief:
• Talk with other people
• Take care of yourself
• Join a support group
• seek out ways to help others
• Get back to your hobbies
• Design a goodbye ritual such as writing a letter and burning it, or saying a prayer of thanks for their presence in your life.
Depending on the loss, it may take a very long time to move through the stages of grief. If you feel you are stuck or that you are truly unable to maneuver in your life, seek out the help of a trained therapist.