Understanding how we experience loss and grief in different ways

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All of us have experienced loss in one form or another. I have been surrounded by loss of late. I want to talk about different experiences of loss because we don’t always recognize and understand it as loss and grief when we are going through it. Let me explain.

A little 11-year-old girl was hit and killed outside my office. This is tragic beyond words. This is an obvious, abrupt horrific loss for the family. And the man who hit her was completely innocent. It was an accident. His loss is the loss of feeling safe.

My mentor is experiencing loss of vision and physical capabilities. When people age, they experience so much loss. Loss of physical ability, loss that we experience in aging differs from one person to the other. One might feel loss of feeling important and valued. Another person might experience loss of independence.

I work with people who experience loss through divorce. They experience loss of hopes and dreams that never happened. I have worked with people who have been forced into retirement, people who have been told their position from work has been eliminated, meaning they have been eliminated. I work with people who experience loss because they didn’t have the childhood that they deserved, loss of innocence.

Everyone’s losses are different, and we can never compare one person’s loss to another’s; however it is necessary to recognize what a loss is and, therefore, recognize that you are grieving. We tend only to recognize the experience of grieving when someone has passed away.

There have been many times when I have worked with someone, and they are experiencing feelings that are connected to grieving, but they don’t recognize it as grief and loss. Sometimes it is a bit easier to move through our feelings of loss if we first recognize loss and then grieving. It feels awful to have feelings of sadness and anger with no understanding of why.

Additionally, I want to mention in this blog post is how we respond to ourselves when we experience loss. In part, I think it is challenging to grieve because of how others respond to us. Someone who was recently forced into retirement, said to me that people responded to him with comments such as “you will find something to do that will make you happy”. He noted “while that may be true, it is not where I am at now”. He felt invalidated and not understood. And honestly, he knew and I knew that these people had the best of intentions. Most of us just don’t know how to respond to someone when they are grieving. (If you’d like, read my post about how to respond to someone’s pain). Many times I ask someone who is grieving, whatever their loss might be, “how are you taking care of yourself?” Many look at me in confusion. Most do not think about how to take care of themselves. All of us need self-care, especially during times of loss. And all of us have different needs regarding self-care. Some may need to be with close friends for support while others may need quiet time by themselves. Some may do yoga, exercise or meditate while others may need gardening, leisurely walks or cuddling with their dog or cat. For me, it varies. There are times when I need to be around friends and times when I need to be alone. There are times when I find it healing to be in nature and other times when I need to sit in front of the TV. The important message here is to recognize that people may not always know how to respond to you, despite their best intentions. And it may actually make you feel worse while you try to allow yourself to feel the enormity of your loss. This is necessary before you can even begin to move to grief, but you can give yourself the nurturing that you need. Yes, of course, we need others to respond to us in a healing way, but it is helpful to balance it with self-care, nurturing and comfort. And maybe more important than anything is self-validation and self-empathy. I hear so many people say:

“I should be over this”

“What is wrong with me that I can’t just get over it”

“It’s been too long, I shouldn’t be feeling this way”

“There are others who have it worse, I shouldn’t be feeling this way”

“I’m just being a big baby and I need to get over it”

PLEASE … please … do not do this to yourself. Validate your hurt. Yes, if you look hard enough you will always find others who have it worse than you but your pain is your pain, and you have the right to comfort and self-nurturing. Ironically (again, this often happens to me) as I was writing this post I came across Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post. (Her husband died abruptly 30 days ago. Anyone who has experienced loss by way of death might want to read it, it is powerful.) She talks about how people respond to her and how hard it is when people tell her that “it will be ok”. Although one might have the intention to be helpful, it is not what she is feeling now; it is not where she is now. So, not only is it important to respond to others in a healing way when they are in pain; it is equally important that you respond to you in a healing way.

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photo credit: Maria C Dawson: Stupefied “Accept Your Feelings” via photopin (license)

Understanding how we experience loss and grief in different ways
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Understanding how we experience loss and grief in different ways
All of us have experienced loss in one form or another. I want to talk about the different kinds of loss because we don’t always recognize it as loss when we are going through it. Let me explain.

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