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What is grief, and how do we cope with loss?: A Grief Counselor’s Perspective


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October 20, 2023

What is grief, and how do we cope with loss?: A Grief Counselor’s Perspective

Grief is the normal reaction to a real or perceived loss. Grieving is a natural process that unfolds over time.  The losses we grieve can include death-related loss, but they can also stem from other types of loss such as: the loss of a relationship, loss of job, loss of security, or the loss of an anticipated future, etc. Grieving is dynamic and can show up in the form of emotional symptoms (sadness, fear, guilt etc), physical symptoms, (headaches, fatigue, tightness in the throat, etc), cognitive symptoms, (forgetfulness, lack of concentration, etc), and/or spiritual symptoms (anger at God, a search for meaning, etc).  But perhaps the most important thing to know about grieving, is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I have worked with many bereaved clients who share, “I’m not grieving correctly,” or “I should be feeling more (or less).” Yet, grieving is truly a unique process for each individual.  Even people grieving the same loss can have vastly different grief experiences.  My wish is that every grieving person has the ability to cultivate an attitude of gentleness towards themselves. Grief is painful enough – we don’t need to add any additional judgements on ourselves.  Accepting a stance of self-compassion can be incredibly helpful for those in the throes of grief.

“There is a sifting and sorting process that often accompanies grieving.”

Another common statement I hear from bereaved individuals is, “I should be done grieving by now.”  But grief has no timeline.  It’s not a straightforward progression, but rather a meandering journey. Some clients I’ve worked with are dismayed to hear my opinion that grieving doesn’t end.  However, while it may never end, the good news is that grief often changes and generally becomes less intense with time. There is a sifting and sorting process that often accompanies grieving.  Generally over time, the feelings and memories become less painful and eventually conjure joy.  

But how does one cope with a loss?  While coping with grief is also an individual process, there are some things that can help:

1. Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings.  By allowing our emotions, we give them room to move through us.  

2. Be gentle with yourself.  Ask yourself what you most need, and try to do that.  Maybe you need some time to rest and recover.  Perhaps you want space to tune out for a bit and get immersed in a good tv show.  Being gentle can also mean lowering your expectations for a while.  Even allowing yourself to not respond immediately to every message that comes in, can feel like a relief.  Move towards things that bring about a sense of ease, rather than tension.

3. Ask for help.  No one should ever move the refrigerator by themselves.  Acute grief is another time to reach out for assistance.  You might consider asking a friend to go for a walk and just listen.  Or perhaps you most need some easy meals to arrive at your doorstep.  Look for the helpers, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

4. Take care of your body.  Rest is important for a grieving individual, but so is exercise. Moving your body doesn’t need to be strenuous.  Gentle movement such as yoga, stretching, and walking can have wonderful benefits for our physical and mental well-being. Eating well and drinking water are also important during this time.

5.  Find ways to express your loss.  You can get really creative here (or not).  Some people find it helpful to talk about their loss, or to emote their feelings.  Ours express their loss through art, dance, music, journaling, etc.  

6.  Honor your loss, and consider creating grief rituals.  Some things to consider here: prepare a favorite dish of your loved ones on a special day/holiday.  Light a candle and say your loss out loud.  Write your feelings down and cast them into the wind.  Plant a tree in someone’s memory.  There’s absolutely no right or wrong here.  Do what feels best for you.  

7. Remember to breathe.  Grief can feel overwhelming at times.  Bringing our attention to our breath can be a simple yet powerful method to help restore us to a state of calm.  Some people also enjoy listening to guided meditations with breath work.  Simply tuning into the quality of your breath throughout the day can help reduce stress.

If you are struggling with grief, I encourage you to reach out to someone supportive.  There are many grief support groups and online forums.  Talking to a grief counselor may also be beneficial.  Remember that you are not alone, and support is available.