One of the most challenging things we will ever experience is the loss of someone or something dear to us. Recently, for me, it was the death of my dad. He was an elder and for the last year and a half he was dealing with health issues. I had the honor of being with him as he left the planet on January 23, 2018, at 1:25 pm.
Grief is a normative and natural response to loss, be it the death of dear one, serious illness, the end of a relationship, the loss of a career, or other big and small life changes. Grief at its core, is part of being human and being alive. Grief isn’t pleasant or pretty, however, it can give us insight, compassion and strength we wouldn’t otherwise have known.
Grief is not linear, it’s a dance, a spiral which has its own time frame and texture. Death and grief is very personal.
Some ways to thrive in the midst of a significant loss or help someone experiencing grief:
1. Expect a process.In stark contrast to how frequently TV characters talk about “getting closure,” in reality, grief is an ongoing experience. The goal of grieving isn’t to “get to the bottom of it” or to stop feeling a certain way. Instead, it’s a process of learning to live with your emotions every day and every moment. Even years later, reminders like a special day or the smell of a favorite meal may trigger a fresh wave of memories and feelings linked to the loss.
2. Acknowledge the loss. “When a person is born we rejoice, and when they’re married we jubilate,” wrote Margaret Mead, “but when they die we try to pretend nothing has happened.” If someone in your life is grieving, do your best to acknowledge that something has happened. Don’t force a conversation if the person isn’t ready to talk. While it may feel awkward, a simple gesture like a hug or sitting together can be what the griever needs in the moment. An offer to help with a household task, such as running errands or making a meal, can also go a long way.
3. Do the grief work. In our fast-paced world, we tend to expect things to be quick, direct and convenient. Living with grief isn’t any of these things. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, no series of steps to make it hurt less, no magical approach that shortens the time it takes to heal. Instead, living with grief requires us to feel our feelings, fully and completely. In the words of poet Emily Dickinson: “The best way out is through.”
4. Ask for help. Lean on your support system. If you’re not sure how to ask for help, “I’m having a hard time…” is a good way to start. If you need help beyond what your friends and family can provide, seek the support of a grief group as well as your counselor or therapist.
As with any process, it takes time to learn new skills and ways to cope with grief. Be gentle with yourself as you experience strong feelings. That kindness toward yourself can be the important first step toward a broader healing that will have ramifications after the grief has subsided.
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