The legacy of grief: Coping with loss

Posted on November 16, 2017

Photo: Pexels

Yes, grief can be different for everyone. But everyone, across ages, countries, and cultures experience grief. It is a common experience, with no sure-fire recipe or "quick fix" for the emptiness that follows. Hundreds of people - poets and psychologists alike - have been trying to explain and contain this deeply human experience for years.

Grief is not something you overcome, it is something you manage. Though you grieve, you live. In the light of loss, how do you live as best as you can?

#1 Acknowledge and accept your feelings
The plethora of contrasting emotions you experience you experience when someone you love has died is very normal. Neurolinguistic programming practitioner, Jeff Brazier, shines light on the range of emotions one may feel in the process of grieving, such as anger, disbelief, guilt, loneliness, resentment, yearning and blame. These are just part of our coping mechanism - trying to process death as it affects our life. Whatever we may or may not appear to feel after someone's death, acknowledging and accepting it is key. Rejecting these emotions is just unhealthy and unhelpful in the long run. If you want to cry, then do it. Crying has proven to be soothing and eliminate stress hormones. The act itself helps regain emotional balance and stabilize our mood.

#2 Grief is not a linear process
Psychiatrist Elisabehth K├╝bler-Ross famously put forward five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But grief is not several steps a person should "follow" as they plunge into a journey from pain to complete emotional healing. Grief is an experience with many branches and is nothing if not messy, unpredictable and nonlinear. In a talk delivered by Dr. Susan Delaney, it is explained that grief is neither "conveniently structured" nor possesses an "endpoint" as such, and grief is demonstrated with the image of a large dark mass in a jar. And as time goes on, the dark mass (grief) doesn't get smaller, but the jar (our emotional capacity) gets larger. The feelings regarding the loss of someone dear to us does not 'disappear' or 'begin to fade', but rather, we grow stronger emotionally and become able to 'fit other feelings', for other people or passions, around our the grief that we once felt so strongly. "We grow around grief, we become bigger", she states. And in the end, our feelings of loss just become one small part of us, in our enlarged emotional space. Separation is painful, but your memories don't just go away. You won't "get over it" per se, but that's completely O.K.

#3 Build on and around your grief
Sometimes, it may not be all about "moving on". Instead, this very grief can be used as a stepping stone to build and create. An example is writing down your experience with grief and memories with the person who passed away. This, aside from possibly helping someone in the process, makes sure that they are remembered. Clinical psychologists, Dr. Wendy G. Lichtenthal and Robert A. Neimeyer, explains that in the aftermath of a distressing event, writing about feelings helps the individual make sense of whatever that has happened and allows him or her to easier manage feelings and grow.

#4 'Create your own ritual'
Clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement, Dr. Kim Bateman, suggests coming up with personal rituals to help come to terms with feelings and absence of the person no longer around. An example of one might be setting a cup of tea for the person you're missing - if, say, tea was a beverage they enjoyed - and imagining having a conversation with them. Rather than keeping you stuck in the past, rituals like this help in moving forward and changing the relationship with the grief felt. As Dr. Delaney notes, "you don't get over it, but you accommodate to it". Personal rituals can be a way of accommodating to the grief, growing around it.

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with it's color."
- 'Separation', W.S. Merwin

The ones we've loved and lost can't just be 'left behind', and in order to learn to live without their physical presence, we can learn to weave their legacies into our lives.

Category(s):Grief, Loss, Bereavement

Source material from Medical News Today

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