Coping and understanding grief
January 23, 2019
In response to the multitude of recent tragedies in our community, I am sharing some information and education on grief awareness that may help those who are currently impacted by these losses.
When death occurs, we often hear the terms "grief" and "mourning" used interchangeably. However, grief is defined as the intense emotional suffering caused by a loss, and mourning is the way we express the emotions we experience. As a grief therapist, there are three main areas I focus on when assisting others along their journey toward healing: the acknowledgement of the loss (which includes identifying and processing the feelings that come up for the person), finding healthy ways to cope with the loss, and honoring and remembering their loved ones.
It's important to identify common phases one may face when acknowledging a loss. These include: shock, disbelief, denial, sadness, anger, loneliness, acceptance, and hope. The beginning phase of grief work is typically characterized by deep pain and overwhelming sadness. It is common to experience memory loss, lack of focus and concentration, and a general feeling of brain fog; try not to put too many demands on yourself and avoid making major life decisions during this time.
Grieving can be an emotional roller coaster ride; at times you feel like you will never feel better and the pain will never go away. Expressing these emotions is an important step toward healing. Some ways to do this include: talking to a trusted family member or friend, attending a grief support group, speaking to clergy, seeking professional counseling, journaling, hitting a punching bag, and allowing yourself permission to cry.
Art, music and play therapy are excellent ways to help children express their feelings. Kids may draw or paint memories of their loved ones, write songs, make musical instruments to express emotions, and enact special memories through sand trays and role playing.
Coping skills are essential when faced with life's challenges and difficulties, and provide additional ways to assist the healing process. These may include: exercise, yoga, prayer, meditation, surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people, using essential oils to help reduce stress, focusing on gratitude, allowing quiet time to unplug from technology and social media, and spending time in nature. I recommend people choose coping skills that best align with their family, cultural, and spiritual values.
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Many people wish to keep their loved one's memory alive. There are a number of ways to honor and remember those who have passed: frame and display pictures, create a memory box filled with special items that belonged to your loved one, plant a tree or flowering shrub in their memory, create their favorite dish or meal to share, visit their favorite place, release a biodegradable balloon with a special message to them, write a song or poem about them, look into memorializing your loved one with a bench dedication at a local park, or donate money to a charity in their name.
The physical side of grief can be surprising, yet it is very real. The most common physical symptom of deep grief is low energy. You may need a lot of extra sleep. Be sure to allow for it. Take naps if you can, and take intermittent breaks to be quiet and still.
Remember you can allow yourself to grieve, but you don't have to grieve 24/7. Give yourself breaks from grieving to do an activity you enjoy, such as walking your dog or laughing with a friend.
It is critical to address the different phases of grief, as unresolved grief my lead to depression, substance abuse, reckless behavior and suicidal ideation. As grievers begin to heal, they will start to have more good days than bad, rediscover joy, and eventually feel hopeful about life again. With time, patience and support, healing can take place.
Additional grief resources are provided through the Center for Hope and Healing, a local nonprofit grief center. For information, visit http://www.douglascenterforhopeandhealing.org or call our 24 hour line at 775-450-0329.
Jodi Wass is a grief counselor and co-founder of the Center for Hope and Healing.