Brad Peters, Psychologist

Grief and Loss

Loss

Dealing with loss is an inevitable, though often difficult, part of the human experience. At some point in our lives, we will likely lose someone close to us, as is the case when an important relationship ends or when someone close to us dies. Grief is a natural response to loss and involves the associated emotional pain of loss. Any loss can potentially lead to grief, including:

Contrary to popular belief, grief is not always something that gets better with the simple passage of time. Grief can be very complex and is not always linear. In short, there is no "normal" timeline for grief and it is therefore best considered as a process. The meaning of a relationship, for example, can involve multiple levels of significance that can play a large role in the impact of this loss and a person's ability to cope. For example, a loss may involve a life companion, an emotional support, a person who challenged us to grow, and so on. While we may be done grieving one aspect of our loss, there may be parts of that grief process that have just begun. Sometimes our own history and personal experiences can also complicate and prolong the grief process (called complicated grief). It can be especially helpful in these situations to have a professional involved who can help to navigate and make sense of the different layers of one's grief process.

Aside from the person-specific variables that can influence one's grieving, we can also mention a few general factors that can influence the impact of loss, including whether the loss was sudden or anticipated, and how loss can often cause us to reflect on our own lives in different ways. For example, if we lose someone to death, we not only have to cope with the relational loss, but also the reminder of our own mortality (and that of others close to us) and the reactions and feelings that go along with it. It is also important to note that in addition to grieving for the loss of what was, we may also grieve what could have been, or for a future that can no longer be realized. For example, someone may not have had an opportunity to say goodbye, to learn more about a person, or to see their relationship or life grow together in the way they had hoped. In these ways the grief process is again complicated.

Some people think that it is important to be "strong" in the fact of loss. They may feel like they are supposed to be "strong" for other family members, for example, or ensure that others will not be "over-burdened" by their feelings. It is unfortunate that in our society, being "strong" is associated with suppressing emotions. Crying does not make a person weak - it shows that they have the strength to fully experience their pain. In doing so, they likely do more for their family and for themselves, through validating what they and others are likely experiencing. This is especially the case for children, who need to know that it is okay to be sad - as long as parents do not lean on their children for emotional support. The natural and healthy process of grief can be assisted by talking to someone about how you are feeling and by allowing yourself to experience those feelings in the presence of people who care.

Therapy for Grief and Loss

Dealing with grief and loss is a natural and inevitable part of life. Still, many of us can get lost in our grief. I work with clients and their unique situations to find a path for navigating through grief in a healthy way and to overcome challenges that may leave people emotionally stuck in the grieving process.


Recommended Reading

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working through Grief
(1994; Author: M. Hickman)

This book has been around for a little while and is one of the more popular books in coping with grief and loss. The author validates and normalizes many of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to bereavement and loss. The grieving process is recognized as a healthy part of life. The daily meditations and bite-size reading chunks make it easy to pick up and put down as needed. Healing After Loss is about 95% secular, though potential readers should know that it can at times have some Christian overtones. That said, atheist and non-Christian readers should be able to draw plenty of helpful material from it.

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
(2005; Authors: Kubler-Ross & Kessler)
On Grief and grieving Cover

The authors argue that while the grieving process is a natural reaction to an important loss, it may be difficult, particularly in this day and age, to know how to best navigate that process. If we do not find a healthy way to cope with loss, our grief may end up getting repressed, only to resurface years later. They suggest that coping with loss will often involve a progression through five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The authors present thoughtful and layperson-friendly suggestions that can prevent a person from getting stuck in the grieving process.

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