Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Breaking Open: Growing Through Grief

I wish there was some way to wrap yourself and the people you love in protective bubble wrap, like they use to prevent fragile things from breaking in the mail. The human experience seems to include highs and lows, and most people get a turn at experiencing loss. While the journey of grief is difficult, people can grow and be tenderized by it if they work through it completely. I notice I am often drawn to people who have experienced some loss. I respect the personal growth that can develop when we let grief break us open, rather than let it harden and embitter us.

Early in my counseling career, I provided hospice counseling for individuals who were dying, and for their families, before and after losing their loved one. Those two years, and the meaningful conversations I was privileged to have with those people, changed my life forever. Facing your own death, or coping with the death of a close family member, really puts the rest of life into perspective. I was about thirty at the time and starting my family and career. I remember sitting with several individuals in their homes and gently reviewing their lives with them; the joys and the sorrows. I recall promising myself never to get caught up in the stupid little stuff in life and lose the big picture. We are all temporary here. So are the people we love.

At work in my counseling office this week, I was reminded how much loss is a part of our lives at every age. Losing a love through a break-up at 20 can be every bit as difficult as a divorce later in life. The hardest kind of loss is the one you are going through. Comparisons don't seem to be helpful.There are other kinds of loss that impact people as well: losses of jobs,moves,financial setbacks,homes, dreams,health challenges. Emotional support at thse pivotal life moments is of critical importance. If you don't have enough, getting grief counseling can be very helpful in resolving your feelings about the loss and not staying stuck.Loss is less complicated if you deal with it as soon as possible and don't numb it or avoid it.

When we experience a loss, we need to mourn. The degree of mourning depends on the amount of attachment that you felt.It is also influenced by the timing of a loss, whether it was sudden or expected, if you were at peace with the person you lost, your coping skills and personality, and the quality of your support system. Writer and psychologist J.William Worden identified 4 emotional tasks of mourning. They are:

1.To accept the reality of the loss

2.To experience the pain of grief

3.To adjust to your environment with the loved one missing

4.To withdraw the emotional energy from that relationship and apply it to other
relationships in your life.

Resolving grief is so important, because grief, like back pain, is cumulative.It will pop up again later if not dealt with.It can be useful to understand what normal grief looks like. Feel free to contact me if you would like specfic book recommendations on growing through grief. Loss comes to us uninvited, but if we can mourn and process it on a deep level it can give our lives so much meaning, and the sweet times even more precious. People that break open to the journey of grief, and go through it, find lots of good things on the other side of that valley.

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