Until recently I never thought much about the many ways grief and grieving impacts our daily lives – I’m referring to grief not associated with a terminal illness or recent death. Despite my education and training, I looked at grief and loss in a somewhat narrow way as only happening in preparation for a death, or following someone’s death. My education in psychology gave me the structure of seeing that there are stages of grief and loss, i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kubler-Ross, 1969). However, I still saw those stages as only related to someone passing away. Actually, we grieve many, many things unrelated to a death. For example, when we don’t meet a goal we set, we grieve. When we acknowledge the loss of our youth, we grieve. When we have to face serious illness in ourselves or others, we grieve the loss of good health.
Grief is one of the most difficult human experiences, in my opinion. I remember my fascination when I learned a college roommate had never been to the funeral of a close family member. I had multiple memories of family funerals, from my grandfather, grandmother, great-aunt, great-uncle, great-grandmother, and so on, as well as having heard about family funerals I was too young to recall attending. I vividly recall attending the funeral of my high school best friend who had passed away suddenly in a motor vehicle accident. Losing him at that time was an experience unlike any other at that point in my youth – I was 17 and had never considered the possibility that a friend could die.
Grief, however, is not always closely tied to a recent or impending death. We sometimes grieve over things which have never even happened. When we’re sad that our deceased grandmother never got to hold her newborn great-grandchild, we grieve. When we wish we would have made another career choice, we’re grieving over the loss of possibilities which will never be. Sometime our grief entails a compilation of what-was, what-never was, and what-never-will-be. Each particular type of grief has its own particular type of pain. When it seems that there is a combination of grief scenarios, the what-was, what-never-was, and what-never-will-be’s, it can seem especially tough to manage. The triggers or things which cue our grief can be many and multi-levelled in such a gathering of painful features. Even so, facing our pain, experiencing our losses, and contemplating our grief, painful as it is, remains a way to actually cope with what has happened. When we try to deny the significance of our hurtful feelings, when we refuse to see that our pain has had an impact and we need time to recover, we put ourselves at risk for leaving a wound open and unable to heal.
Although there is little if anything in life over which we truly have control, we can determine how we plan to start to cope with our loss, and how we’ll deal with our grief. In my work as a counselor, I’ve sometimes tried to compliment others on how well they appear to cope with loss and grief. I’ve often had others give me a bewildered look and thank me, but then tell me they really had no choice but to try their best to deal with their life. I’ve met people who have seen loss quite differently and have instead chosen not to cope – chosen to give up on ever again experiencing happiness or a sense of purpose in their life. Choosing to give up is never an answer, an emotional suicide of sorts, and really only prolongs pain, making it seem impossible to survive.
Grief is synonymous with change, and change means discomfort, or an absence of comfort. Let me know your views on coping with grief and loss – whatever the loss may be. If it’s a personal loss you are feeling, I wish you strength and peace. Consider writing about your experience as this can often help us heal. Please be well and take good care.