By Mary Reitano
“…it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” E.A. Bucchianeri
Autumn leaves turn color and drift gently to earth, signaling summer’s end. Falling leaves, early darkness, and the chill in the air bring melancholy reminders of endings and losses.
Losing a loved one is one of life’s hardest challenges. But, each grief journey is unique. Losing a partner, child, sibling, parent or friend impacts people differently. A long illness gives time to prepare—but one is never fully prepared. Others are blind-sided by death through an accident or heart attack. Death steals many roles–companion, breadwinner, lover, cook, handy man. Loss affects our identity. A widow may wonder “Who am I now that I am not a wife?” A child’s death is particularly hard. Parents do not expect to outlive their children. They grieve unrealized hopes. This includes miscarriage or stillbirth, which are sometimes minimized.
What helps people navigate the grief journey?
Recognize grief depletes physical, mental, and emotional energy. You may feel confused, forgetful. Grief is an emotional roller-coaster. Kubler-Ross wrote about five stages—denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance. Most people move back and forth between these.
During grief, practice healthy habits related to sleep, exercise, and food and alcohol intake. Sleep may be elusive. Request medication or wait–eventually, exhaustion leads to sleep. Depression may accompany grief–counseling, medication or exercise help. Some people increase food or alcohol intake to numb grief. Guard against unhealthy coping which creates new problems.
Be patient with yourself. Others may hurry you, but experiencing grief is healthier than suppressing it. Initially, people are in shock; some cope better than expected, especially with significant social support. Later, support lessens and grief intensifies. Take life one day, one moment at a time. You will likely always miss your loved one. Grief has no set timeline, but, over time, the intensity subsides. You gradually handle responsibilities with more energy and even enjoy life again. But periodic, unexpected waves of grief are normal. Anticipate fresh grief on anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. Plan ahead for support. Consider simple rituals—private reflection, lighting candles, or sharing memories.
Consider friends, family and professional resources. First, think of good listeners who allow you to talk about missing your loved one. Secondly, think of helpers to repair things, cook meals, babysit, or run errands. Call them when struggling with daily tasks. Lastly, think of light-hearted companions to enjoy an activity that provides needed distraction. Finally, consider a support group, or meeting with a minister or counselor. Having a safe place to talk with caring, accepting people can help.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott
Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate practicing in Lake Lure, NC. Her focus is positive psychology with a holistic approach addressing emotional, relational, metal, physical and spiritual health. She can be reached at 704-858-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.