We all will be faced with the loss of a loved one. You may have already faced this more times than you would like. It could be the loss of a parent, child, friend, sibling, spouse, grandparent or family pet. It could be the loss of a job, physical health, relationship – there are many types of loss.
It could be a sudden loss, tragic loss, or slow and gradual loss. Whatever type it is – we grieve our losses in a unique way. It's a very personal experience. Just like each one of us is unique, so is the grief process.
I learned about the grief process from others who were going thru a loss and also in my own life. I discovered that there are common themes that help us move through the journey. I call this moving from grief to growth.
I became interested in the grief process because I experienced a significant loss when I was 8 years old. My mother died from cancer when she was 36 years old and she was a non-smoker. I have experienced other painful losses since that time – my father, my awesome step-mother, and 2 special pets - to mention a few.
So here is what I have learned about moving from grief to growth.
1. Talking about the loss helps you process and move thru the pain.
This might seem obvious, but many of us grew up in a family or a generation where no one was talking about death - especially to children. Why? Maybe they think they are protecting you. Maybe they think talking about it will make things worse. Maybe they don’t want to see you get more upset. Maybe they were taught to not talk about feelings.
When my mother died, no one was talking about the loss. I learned that I should not talk about it either. I know they were doing the best they could and their intentions were well meaning. I did not grieve the loss at that time or for many years afterwards. Grief gets put on the shelf and the door is closed. You move on as if nothing has happened. What else can one do?
I didn’t realize this was a problem until I attended a marriage preparation class at age 24. I was asked about my mother. I immediately felt a sense of panic when asked to speak about my mother. No one was talking about my mother, so how was I supposed to do it?
After that, grief was again put on the shelf until I was 34 and decided to go to University. I took a class called "Death and Dying." It was my favorite class ever! I now had the opportunity to learn about the grief process and talk about it and write a paper about it. I was so excited about that. I got 100% on that paper. The professor said it must have been so difficult for me to write that paper. I said, no, it was great, and it really was. This is when I really started to move through the grief process in a healthy way.
I had another opportunity to learn more about grief when I decided to write my thesis on grief. I wanted to know how people moved from grief to growth. I knew people did this. Not everyone was stuck in the grief process. So I spent one year researching this.
The most important thing I found was that it was helpful for most people to talk about the loss. Losses really hurt and sharing feelings is more helpful than grieving alone. This matters because it gives your story credibility and enhances the healing process.
2. We adjust and adapt to loss - we don’t get over it.
Few people can truthfully say they have entirely resolved their grief. More likely, they have adjusted or adapted to the loss and still occasionally experience strong emotions related to the loss. You are encouraged to explore your feelings and grow thru the pain. There are a range of feelings – shock, denial, sadness, anxiety, guilt, yearning for what could have been, and anger. You can move back and forth between any of these feelings or skip some of them entirely.
3. The grief process will likely take longer than we expect.
I learned that the first few months are the hardest and then the first year of all the firsts – birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and even certain seasons. After 2 years, most people are adapting and adjusting to life without their loved one. There may still be “grief spurts” when the grief is strong again, but this usually subsides and life goes on until the next grief spurt.
4. Self-care is so important while grieving.
Grieving is one of the most exhausting things you will ever do. In the beginning, your physical care is the most critical area to focus on. Getting enough rest and sleep because you will be exhausted, eating regular meals to maintain energy, some exercise to lift your mood, lots of water, and vitamins. Even your concentration can be effected when grieving – so driving may be a concern in the beginning.
Emotional self-care may mean talking to others and talking to a professional if you think you need help. It means giving yourself permission to feel the pain so that you can slowly heal. It could also be journalling about feelings or planning any type of activities that you look forward to.
Allow yourself time to cry. Allow yourself time to laugh. Laughter is just as healing as crying. Allow yourself breaks from grieving.
Mental coping may mean keeping major decisions to a minimum and avoiding stressful situations.
5. Maintain the bond with your loved one.
It's beneficial to maintain symbolic bonds. When death occurs, the physical relationship is broken, but the meaning of the deceased person's life does not end. Many bereaved people feel connected to their loved ones even after they have died. I certainly do!
How are healthy bonds maintained? Talk about them, reminisce about positive memories, look at photos, visit places that were important to them, plant a tree in their honor and visit it, write about them, or become involved in activities they liked. Keep some of their mementos if you find them comforting. Here are some of my mementos...
6. Personal growth can be an outcome of the grieving process.
This happens when you are able to struggle thru your grief and overcome the hopelessness of your earlier grief and develop a sense of hope about what your future holds. You must push onward thru your emotional journey so you can arrive at the point where the healing and growth can begin.
Examples of personal growth are becoming more aware of what is important in life. Some said they felt more patient, empathetic, non-judgmental after the loss. Some had a new appreciation for life and discover what really matters. They felt they became a better person as a result of surviving an unbearable experience. Others re-evaluated their values and priorities as a result of their loss.
In my own case, I found a sense of meaning in my own loss by learning about grief and the grieving process. I learned how one can move from grief to growth. I moved through this process and now it is my privilege to walk beside others on their journey of grief. I had to go thru all of that to arrive here today.
I've talked about 6 ways to help move from grief to growth.
I'd love to hear about one thing that stood out for you.
What have you done to help you move thru your grief?
If you know someone who would benefit from this blog, please share it with them.
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Hi! I'm Beth Matthews. I'm a Registered Psychologist who is driven to helping people feel better about themselves. I help people who are struggling in their lives gain an awareness of how they can cope with anything that comes their way. With my easy-to-use strategies, you can feel better and be your best you!