Self Improvement — 06 June 2008
Managing your grief

Grief, a feeling of deep sorrow or sadness, is part of everyone’s experience. It spans the gamut from reactions to small day-to-day losses to major profound grief about the loss of a dear one’s life. The sorrow may be about one’s own personal disappointments, failures, unmet expectations, health or aging or may be about a connection with others. A terminated love relationship often brings great pain regardless of the circumstances. All changes in one’s life, even the ones viewed as positive, often entail losses that produce sadness and even grief.

In our culture, grief is viewed as an undesirable emotion. Kind friends and family members who love the bereaved individual, seek to lighten his/her load in a variety of ways, most of which are ineffective and can even be harmful. The well-intentioned desire to alleviate one’s suffering only adds hardship to the grief stricken individual. One finds quickly that his/her pain is uncomfortable for others and must either be contained, concealed or dealt with in private. This ends up isolating the sad individual from the emotional support he/she so desperately needs.

Victoria Alexander, a best selling novelist and an award winning television reporter, encourages grievers to deal with their three major needs: 1. Finding words for your loss. 2. Saying these words aloud, even if it makes the other people uncomfortable. 3. Knowing that the words have been heard. Lady Bird Johnson expressed the same idea, “People must be given the opportunity to hurt out loud.”

Some of the reluctance to share grief with others is the concern that unhappy emotions are not well tolerated and that the griever may “burn out’ his/her friends. Some deeply sad people feel that they are not good company during their time of pain. This sensitivity to the reception one may get and to one’s readiness for ordinary social interaction can be good guides for the griever in finding those people who also share some of his/her loss, even if it is not to the same degree.

Some people who grieve make a variety of discouraging predictions about themselves. They may say, “ I will not be able to survive this”, “My life will never be the same”, “I will never be happy again”. These and other negative future prediction are incorrect, fear-based and pain propelled pronouncements. The individual is stressed and hurting so deeply that the option of his/her recovery to healthy functioning appears bleak.

Robert A. Neimeyer in his book “Lessons of Loss” states, “Our world is forever transformed by loss. We will not return to some pre event state following a ‘recovery’.” Yet, most grievers do recover and recreate a new and often happy life for themselves – despite their permanent loss. Neimeyer advises that one needs to reconstruct a personal world of meaning that though challenged by loss, restores coherence to the griever’s life.

• Recognize that your grief is an essential, healthy process toward the restoration of your emotional homeostasis and the reconstruction of your new life’s reality.
• Carefully select the people who may also be impacted by your loss and can be more sensitive to your reactions.
• Avoid retreating to a lonely state when you encounter others’ ‘life as usual’ style. Your grief is uniquely yours and cannot be expected to be shared by others in the same manner.
• Verbally express your sadness to compassionate listeners. Tell them they need not do anything else but be caring listeners and thus help alleviate your discomfort.
• Journal your feelings, review photos, read books about grieving and inspirational themes. Speak to your clergyman, counselor or mentor. Think of the joyous times and the gifts you have received prior to the loss that can sustain you now.
• Abstain from making predictions about your future emotional state. Deal with your current feelings and allow yourself to experience the pain, it will expedite the healing.
• Join a grief group, if you find it soothing. Do not compare your process of bereavement to those of others. It is a set up for further disappointment. Everyone grieves differently and every loss is unique and appropriate to that relationship.
• When ready, ask yourself what new direction your can pursue that will give new meaning to your life. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
• Remember that becoming happy again is not a betrayal of your lost loved one but the actualization of his/her wishes and love for you.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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