Grief and loss are universal experiences that all of us will have to tackle at some point. In my career so far I have treated grief and loss in the usual places. I have worked with older adults in senior living facilities coping with the passing of friends, family, and neighbors and even coming to terms with their own end-of-life experience. During my work at in-patient facilities, I have seen many struggling to deal with grief and turning to substance use in an attempt to numb the emotions associated with loss. I have also dealt with loss in perhaps unlikely places. My work with preschool-aged children included work helping clients deal with lost attention from their parents with the birth of a new sibling, or the loss of an important relationship with their favorite teacher. Loss is everywhere and it’s painful – but I believe it can also be beautiful.
I feel it’s important to establish what grief is and normalize grief in all kinds of situations. Grief is a set of complex emotions occurring in a non-linear cycle as a result of a loss. This can happen when someone we care about passes away, but it also occurs after breakups, lost jobs, housing insecurity and loss, lost friendships, etc. Grief is not exclusive to death and there are no bounds on what loss can result in grief. If I’ve lost something important to me I can feel grief. This is true even if I know the loss is coming ahead of time as with some breakups or job changes or even deaths.
So what do I do with my grief? There are many theories and explanations for grief including the “5 Stages of Grief” and the “Tasks of Mourning”. Boiled down to a simplistic version, the most common treatment for grief that I offer is allowing oneself to feel their feelings of grief without judgment.
This means allowing oneself to feel their sadness, anger, confusion, etc. as often and as long as needed. The ultimate task of grieving is accepting that the version of my life that I had pictured with this person, job, home, teacher, etc. no longer exists and continuing to live fully in this new version of my life. Easier said than done, but we know that avoidance of our emotions only leads to more devastating emotions, and perhaps physical consequences later. And the piece de resistance? There’s no such thing as closure. Not really. I believe acceptance is an active process that requires effort and intentionality, whereas the idea of closure I see in popular media is passive and comes as the result of a moment or experience. The truth is I don’t really want closure. The part of grief that I find strangely beautiful is the idea that I can be so impacted by a person, place, or experience that the loss of it hurts. To me, experiencing the joy of those impacts is worth experiencing the grief that comes when they are gone. It is a reminder that I have loved and lived fully.
All our emotions are natural and with us for a reason. When we cease fighting them and begin to have an honest and symbiotic relationship with them where they guide us but don’t control us, we really get to experience all that life has to offer. Give yourself permission to grieve, and if you need additional support please feel free to reach out!