Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Is Grief Over?

When grief hits you,it hits hard,and it feels like it will last forever.Whether it's the loss of a loved one through death,or the end of a love relationship,grief is an equal opportunity emotion that each of us experience during our lifetime.Grief changes you.

Having grieved a relationship with someone you loved dearly makes a person more tender,more appreciative of the sweet and happy moments,and more aware of the fleeting nature of time.It makes you keenly aware to not let your love go unexpressed.It reminds all of us to stay in the present as much as we can.

Over twenty years ago,I worked with hundreds of bereaved people when I interned at the Counseling Department at a large hospital here in Orange County,California.I got to experience walking beside many individuals as they took their journey through loss.It was an honor to do so. I still feel privileged today to walk beside my counseling clients as they grow through loss.Grief experiences can be very individual,like your fingerprint.There are,however,some things that can be generalized about living through loss.

The amount of grief you feel is in direct proportion to the amount of attachment you felt for that person.Losing a young child,for example,is extremely difficult because a parent and a young child have identities that still are intertwined.This is why one person can lose a sister,for instance,and it will have very little impact because they were not close,while it could be a profound loss for someone else who was quite attached to their sister.

The nature of the loss also impacts the intensity of the loss that is experienced.A sudden death or end to a relationship carries more shock,while a loss after an extended illness or years of fighting before a marital separation,allow for anticipatory grief.Expected loss is still difficult,you just have warning that it is coming,and hopefully have time to express yourself to the loved one you are losing.

Normal grief hits in waves.You can cry and fall apart when you see something or hear a song that reminds you of the beloved.Afterwards the tears pass.It helps to know that you are not depressed,or going crazy.This is grief.Grief does not normally impact self-esteem,like depression does.Remember,tears are good.That's why I have boxes of kleenex on every table in my counseling office;tears heal.

Your family and cultural background also impact the way you experience grief.Certain cultural groups,like Asians and Germans,for example generally show less emotion,and this is true for grief expression as well.Their experience is just as profound,but may be experienced more internally.In contrast,other cultural backgrounds may make the expression of grief more emotive,such as with Hispanics.Your cultural and religious faith may also guide and help direct some tasks of mourning,such as holding a wake,visitation at a funeral home,or the Jewish tradition of placing the grave marker a year after the death.Rituals are helpful with the mourning process.

Any unfinished business in the relationship also will impact grief.Death or divorce mean the end for whatever hopes you had for getting your needs met by that individual,so if it never met your needs some personal counseling may be in order to sort out your complicated feelings about the loss.Then you can heal and go on and pursue happiness afterwards.

When is grief finished? It's a wonderful question. There are subtle changes that over time begin to help you realize you are healing.You begin to enjoy things and people again.Your energy returns.(Grief is hard work for your body and spirit.)You find yourself smiling again.Over time,the healthy resolution of grief involves removing the emotional energy that was invested in the relationship with your loved one,and reapplying that energy in another place in your life.It's been said that grief and loss cause us to break a little,and that's where the light gets in.Loss provides the bittersweet contrast that makes the good times even more precious.

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