Grieving is part of healing
Sooner or later, you will suffer the loss of a close relative or friend and you will grieve. It happens to all of us. It’s also hard to console a friend or relative who is grieving. Although you can’t take the pain away, being there for this person is crucial. You won’t be able to fix the situation or make your friend or relative feel better, but by being present, you can offer hope and a positive outlook. Grief is a gradual process. And grieving is not just about death. We can grieve over the loss of a pet, a relationship, a job, children who have moved out or even a physical function. When we suffer a loss, it slams into us like a runaway truck. I remember losing my father, then my mother and finally a marriage. All of those hurt like hell but in different ways.
Grieving is difficult
We’ve all grieved at one time or another, and it’s difficult. And while we understand that that grieving puts us under great stress, we may have overlooked the tremendous toll it takes on our bodies and immune systems – the side effects we may not see. Dr. Maureen Malin, a geriatric psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, says, “most of these side effects are the result of emotional distress responses.” Our bodies release waves of stress hormones that often exacerbate existing conditions, such as heart failure or diabetes. These hormones can also cause insomnia, high blood pressure, heartburn and changes in appetite.
Put one foot in front of the other
Experiencing a loss is one of the most challenging experiences of being human and being sad is part of grieving. For some, the process goes way past being sad and leads to depression. And when we’re depressed, we withdraw from our friends and other social contacts. We stop taking care of ourselves, quit exercising, perform poorly at work and become less interested in our everyday lives. All of this puts our health at risk at a time when we need to be our healthiest. So, what can we do about it? For one, we can simply “fake it till we make it.” By that, I mean merely putting one foot in front of the other, taking small steps and moving forward until we return to our healthy lives. A mindfulness approach can also help us heal.
Mindfulness involves allowing ourselves to experience the painful emotions we feel when letting go of people and things that were once important to us but are now, for whatever reason, no longer available to us. If we observe these feelings as they are, we can begin to make peace with them. In fact, we can’t really heal until we make peace with them. Grieving and mourning are usually described as consisting of the five different stages identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
The five stages consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. Many of us move through all the stages in order, others may skip some stages and others may move back and forth between them. Of course, there is no set period for the grieving process to run its course. And while time won’t fully heal the pain of our loss, it will most definitely help lessen it. Even today, some 34 years after my father passed away, something will trigger a thought of him and cause me to cry. Thankfully, the thoughts often are loving memories of him.
Accepting a loss doesn’t mean that there is no longer any pain. It means that your emotional fallout no longer keeps you from functioning and feeling well. It’s taken me some time to accept that I can never run again after complete knee-replacement surgery. I grieved hard for that as running has always been my stressbuster. Allowing ourselves to feel the pain of the loss requires much less energy than continually trying to run from it. Running from or trying to avoid the pain will only prolong the agony and slow down our healing process. Like a scar over a deep cut, you must allow it to form.
Happy all the time
Grieving is also tough because “society today expects us to be happy all the time,” according to licensed master social worker Tami Sasson. “Remind yourself that it’s OK to be human; it’s OK to feel, and it’s OK to grieve. Keep talking about it and keep feeling it. This is your time to take the best possible care of yourself. It will get easier. Cry as much as you need and never apologize for saying no.” Dr. Shatavia Alexander Thomas offers another interesting observation. “Grieving is like breathing, but we act like we have to hold our breath. It’s a natural process and if you pretend like you don’t have to do it or that it doesn’t exist, you’ll end up choking or passing out.”
The sun will shine again
Don’t fall into the trap of self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. It will get you nowhere. Eat, exercise, sleep and socialize. Establish daily spiritual rituals, get outside and enjoy nature, practice breathing exercises, pamper yourself, read inspirational materials, keep a journal, allow yourself to cry and as strange as it may seem, look for the positive from these painful experiences! Please be patient with yourself. Once you’ve completed the process, you can begin your “new normal” life. It’s important to remember that the sun will shine again.