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After the death of a family member, the path to healing from loss is rarely a straight, easily-navigated road; clearly marked with directional signs. Instead, it is, as Paul McCartney sang, "a long and winding road", full of twists, turns and switch-backs. Coping with their death and healing after loss can take far longer than we'd expect, and change us more than we could have predicted. Grief is nothing if not transformative.
So, what does it mean; when you're asked to cope? The dictionary definition is "to deal effectively with something difficult"; and perhaps the most important thing to notice is the use of the word effectively. Healing from loss requires we cultivate the awareness to recognize any ineffectiveness (negative, defeatist behaviors) in our reaction to loss; and then we must also have the tools to modify those ineffective behaviors and the thoughts guiding them.
If we take the perspective that much of grief involves managing our reaction to loss, you can see that effective grieving (leading to healing after loss) is a matter of learning to better handle our emotional selves whenever we're faced with distressing, difficult situations (like the death of a friend, family member, or pet). Ineffective grieving then, occurs when our emotions run wild; making rational thought difficult. These emotions (such as anger, sadness, fear, insecurity, guilt and/or loneliness) can also cause us to can behave very badly, both with ourselves and with others. It can also force us to isolate ourselves, which is certainly counter-productive. Ineffective grievers are literally incapacitated by their emotions; they are in constant emotional turmoil.
Fortunately, most intuitively know how to grieve effectively, in that they manage (over time) to do three things: get through the worst of their grief, function well day-to-day, and find meaning in their life. Their grief is not a major threat to their sense of self-worth, and personal identity; it an adaptive process which runs its course. Effective grieving, and healing from loss, involves a high degree of self-awareness, the willingness (and the skills) to manage our emotions.
Andrea Wachter, in "Emotions 101: How to Reveal and Heal What You Feel", tells readers that while we humans are graced with four primary emotions: sadness, anger, fear and happiness; for most of us, our natural state of being is to be “present and at peace”. Basically then, when an emotion surfaces and we recognize it (let's say we're feeling anger), we can do one of three things:
If you want to cultivate a healthy relationship with your emotions, Ms. Wachter argues there are two things you need to do:
Other things you can do to manage your emotions include:
The authors of About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos, argue "Grieving people are in pain and on an island - a double whammy that grief, above all other human hurts seems to give." That means the first strategy for effective grieving is to avoid isolation. Of course, being alone has its rewards; just don't become a recluse. Get the support you need from your community: family, friends, pastor, or grief counselor. The other six effective grieving “tools” include:
Until a loss occurs, no one can really know how the related grief will feel, or how long it will last. Megan Devine, in "The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don't Help Anyone", offers her readers essentials to remember when healing from loss:
In the End
“The truth is,” closes Ms. Devine, “you will seize up in the face of pain and soften into it, again and again, both things in rapid succession, and both things with silence in between. You'll find ways to live inside your grief, and in doing so, it will find its own right place.” If you find living inside your grief to be too difficult, please reach out to us by (519) 941-1392. We will be privileged to assist you in healing after loss.
Devine, Megan, "The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don't Help", Huffington Post, 2013
Wachter, Andrea, "Emotions 101: How to Reveal and Heal What You Feel", Huffington Post, 2013
Marasco, Ron and Shuff, Brian, About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos, Ivan R. Dee, 2010.