How to Cope With Grief and Loss

Loss is one of the most difficult challenges to cope with in life, and no loss is more difficult to adjust to than losing someone you love.

Grief can be exhausting. And some people find that mourning simply doesn't leave much energy to invest in their careers, relationships or any other aspect of their lives. This is particularly true if depression sets in, numbing feelings for anyone or anything else.

It's important to remember that each person grieves in his or her own way. Grief emerges naturally from a person's coping skills, individual personality traits, past experiences, cultural influences, and the unique relationship that the person may have had with the deceased person.

Mourning always takes a toll on those closest to the mourner. For example, sometimes the death of a child can be the beginning of the end of a marriage. One spouse may tend to evaluate the other's grieving process. If she cries, she thinks he should cry. If he doesn't want to talk about it, he thinks she shouldn't need to talk about it either. And parents who identify strongly with their roles as mothers or fathers often experience a loss of their sense of self: They see the child's death as a death of part of themselves, the death of one piece of their future. Gone are the Saturday fishing trips, school plays, soccer games, school graduation ceremonies.

Here are some tips for managing grief constructively:

  1. Do what you need to do to feel better, but try to be aware of how your grief affects others.
  2. Don't direct your pain or anger at people who are close to you.
  3. Don't shut out grieving loved ones who share your loss when they need to talk. Ask how you can help. Find ways to help ease their pain.
  4. Don't make the mistake of severing relationships (such as rushing toward divorce or ending a friendship) because it feels like you don't love that person anymore, or that he doesn't love you. Remember that grief doesn't erase the love you have for others -- just the energy you would normally have to invest in those relationships. Focus instead on how you can restore positive energy to your relationships.
  5. Don't expect your significant other to be your sole source of emotional support. Don't drag your spouse into your black abyss of grief on those really dark days when you can barely crawl out of bed. Allow him/her some distance from your grief. Talk to your friends, family or a therapist. Talk to people who meant something to your child.
  6. If the pain is too great to talk about, write letters.
  7. Create a new source of memories...create a scrapbook or a video montage, plant a tree, establish a scholarship fund in the deceased person's name.

People often want to know who long grief will last. There is no specific time frame for grief as it is different for every person. There is also never an "end point" to the grief. The intensity of the feelings will subside, but most people find that there will always be triggers or memories of the deceased that will bring about a sweet sense of sadness. This is healthy in the sense that these feelings reaffirm how important this person was in our lives.

When someone close to you dies, you may feel empty and numb, a sense of shock. You may have trouble sleeping and eating. Deep sadness and sorrow are common feelings of grief. You may become angry, feel guilty or have a lack of desire to participate in activities you previously enjoyed. These feelings are normal when a loss occurs.

So what are some warning signs that indicate you need help? Researchers describe normal grief as always moving or changing. It's when grief stagnates and prevents you from functioning that it becomes a problem. Your grief will also feel unresolved and you'll sense that you need help to work through those feelings that are keeping you stuck.

Other indicators that you need professional help would be increased anxiety or serious panic attacks. Grief can also bring on feelings of depression, but there's a distinction between sadness associated with grief and clinical depression. With grief, sadness feels like a normal, expected response. With depression, there's a pervasive negative sense of self and the depression affects your ability to function for 2 weeks or more. When that's coupled with thoughts of harming yourself or wishing you were dead, it's critical to get some support from a therapist.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by grief and loss, please feel free to contact me at 408.250.2166 or maria@marialloyd.com.

 

©2009 Maria Lloyd, LMFT MFC38399. All worldwide rights reserved.
Maria Lloyd is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Silicon Valley area— San Jose / Santa Clara County, California. Maria provides individual counseling for women for: depression and stress management, post-partum depression, anxiety and panic disorders, bipolar disorder, interpersonal relationship issues, self and identity issues, co-dependency, anger management, and managing grief and loss.