Grief and Loss
There are many ways to deal with a loss.
It’s likely that more than one method may be useful to get through it.
Therapy can certainly help people avoid Complicated or Prolonged Grief and can certainly help with Grief and Loss.
Nearly all helping tools and methods have to do with honoring what you had and not what you lost – being glad you had the person, not that you lost them. Part of our self-identity comes from the relationships we have with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity, or the way you see yourself, naturally changes. You may have gone from being a “wife” or “husband” to a “widow” or “widower.” You may have gone from being a “parent” to a “bereaved parent”. Maybe you are no longer the close friend, son or daughter, etc. – sometimes even an employee, if you’ve lost a needed job. The way you define yourself and the way society defines you is changed. A death or great loss sometimes requires you to take on new roles that had been filled by the person who died or you may now find a painful void in yourself that the lost one had filled. You confront your changed identity every time you do something that used to be done by or with the person who died. And you grow as a person when learning to fill your own void. Many people discover that as they must adjust, they ultimately discover some positive aspects of their changed self-identity. You may develop a more caring, responsible or kind and sensitive part of yourself. You may develop an assertive part of your identity that empowers you to go on living and thriving even though you continue to feel a strong sense of loss.
Stages of Grief and Loss
A good starting place is read the Stages of Grief and Loss, readily available on the internet, to determine where you are on that list so that some of your feelings can perhaps feel normalized and the next Stages expected, making them more manageable.
- Making meaning will be as varied as personalities are.
- A positive approach is needed to leave your personal feelings of loss or regret and focus and what that person gave you.
- How are you different from having known them?
- Did they make you feel safe and accepted?
- Maybe they gave you or enhanced your sense of humor?
- Perhaps they introduced religion or spirituality or Buddhism or meditation or Forest Bathing or other ways of learning to self-soothe.
- Were they a success in some way that inspired you?
- What was special about them that you’d like to emulate?
- Some people find comfort with planting a tree or bush in the memory of the person who has left.
- Others prefer to donate to a group that would resonate with him/her.
- Some write letters to help them come to acceptance and burying them when putting a special plant in the ground.
- A letter that is burned so that the smoke goes up to the heavens is not uncommon.
- I know a person who went to Iceland to see the Northern Lights feeling her loved one was there.
- Some Latin countries celebrate The Day of the Dead once a year to honor those dear to them that have passed.
- The Chinese also celebrate once a year in April. On this holiday China’s cemeteries are more densely populated with the living than the dead. Millions of people of Chinese descent visit the graves of their ancestors to burn paper money or other paper made into cars, houses, boats, hearts, etc. and believe that if you burn paper money and other offerings at the graves of your ancestors, they will receive them in the afterlife and, thinking kindly of you, put them to use. The graves are cleaned before candles and incense are lit. Often, messages to the deceased are also spoken out loud. This holiday of remembrance has become a bit commercialized, as has our Christmas, but it is about joy and love – not the loss.
What could you do that could give you peace and meaning?
Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health,
CA LMFT, MA, RAS, CATC IV, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (51746)
Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.