In memory of Barbara Jean & David Wedgeworth, parents of Dr. Velma “Jean” Stanley, Licensed Psychologist
Such a small word. Yet, when the loss is experienced, particularly in losing a loved one, few words compare when considering life-changing events that can restructure a person’s world, crush the heart, or
leave a person literally shaken to the core and forced by uninvited and often unwanted circumstances to face life on new terms.
A personal example I can share is found in the loss of my beloved mother on June 3, 2022. Naturally, as the first anniversary of her death passed quietly away in just 24 hours, I felt it appropriate to pause for a moment and reflect not only on how I loved my mother and my father, (who passed in 2013), but also on the emotional journey of learning how to be me without them near me and how to make peace with the life-altering events that reached into that seldom visited place in my soul where sorrow and mourning reside. I learned a great deal about the loss in the passing of my father, but since losing my mother, the gravity of loss has taken me down a very different emotional road filled with complex emotions I found difficult at times to understand and process. In fact, when thinking about sorrow or mourning, or coping with death, I used to think only about the “event” of death itself as someone’s passing that was followed then by sadness experienced at a funeral and burial. My goodness, I could not have been more wrong.
I’m so thankful for my mother and father’s long and wonderful life and all I have learned from them. But the journey of learning to cope with their loss, how to rethink how I do my days, and how to accept, understand, and embrace my sorrow has taught me some equally incredible and helpful things about life. I have learned the importance of healthy coping and the need for broader thinking, including the importance of realizing for myself, my family, and my clients that loss is not “an event” but rather a profound and often prolonged emotional state that is associated with pain, suffering, or anguish that needs to find expression. The feelings can be great on some days and barely felt on others. But in either case, for my journey, the emotional impact of such great loss was like the shifting of angry, turbulent waters in a stormy sea that rocked my world, threw me off balance, and took away from the identity I found in having a living parent.
Thankfully, I now see that with time, the waves will subside. The water will settle. Emotions recalibrate, and life will form a new normal. I miss my mother and my father terribly, but now, with the waters of my loss more calm, my own recalibration experience enables me to focus more on their life, the goodness in them, and how they loved me, rather than on the feelings of loss. I am still healing, and sharing these thoughts is part of that healing process. I know I am not alone. So many suffer from loss and the grief that accompanies such loss. I have found it so important to embrace the grief process, which is different for everyone. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few thoughts about grief in hopes of offering some insights and help to others. Meanwhile, remember that the healing of a broken heart can be a challenging and deeply personal process. While it takes time, and there is no quick fix, here are some insights and strategies that may help you find healing:
What is grief?
The grief process refers to the range of emotions and reactions individuals experience when faced with the death of a loved one or any significant loss. It is a natural and complex process that varies from person to person. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, common stages and coping strategies help individuals navigate the grieving process. It’s important to note that grief is a deeply personal experience: everyone may not go through all the stages or experience them in the same order.
Stages of Grief
1. Denial: Initially, accepting the loss’s reality can be difficult. Denial is a common defense mechanism that allows individuals to gradually absorb the shock of the loss at their own pace.
2. Anger: As reality sets in, it’s common to feel anger and frustration. People may direct their anger toward themselves, the deceased, a higher power, or even unrelated individuals. It’s important to recognize and express these emotions in healthy ways.
3. Bargaining: In an attempt to regain control or make sense of the loss, individuals may enter a phase of bargaining. This often involves seeking some form of compromise or attempting to strike a deal, even if it’s unrealistic. For example, pleading to have the loved one back or wishing for more time.
4. Depression: A deep sense of sadness, emptiness, and despair can be experienced during the grieving process. This stage involves coming to terms with the loss and fully recognizing its impact. It’s essential to allow oneself to grieve and seek support from others during this phase.
5. Acceptance: The final stage of grief does not mean forgetting or moving on from the loss. Instead, it involves reaching a state of acceptance, where individuals begin to adjust to their new reality. Acceptance does not necessarily mean being with the loss but rather finding a way to live with it.
Remember, grief is a unique experience, and there is no set timeline for healing. Each person copes with loss in their own way and at their own pace. It’s essential to be compassionate towards yourself and allow yourself the space to grieve and heal in your own time. While going through the grief process, there are coping strategies that can help individuals navigate their emotions and find healing:
Healing in Grief
1. Practice self-care: Prioritize your physical and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, or a sense of peace. Take care of your physical health by getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in regular exercise. Make self-care a priority to nurture yourself during this difficult time.
2. Express your emotions creatively: Find healthy outlets to express and release your emotions. Consider journaling, writing poetry, painting, or engaging in other forms of creative expression. These outlets can provide a means to process your feelings and gain clarity and understanding.
3. Focus on personal growth: Use this time as an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. Explore your own passions, interests, and goals. Engage in activities that contribute to your personal development and help you discover new aspects of yourself.
4. Set healthy boundaries: If the broken heart involves a relationship that is no longer serving you, it may be necessary to establish healthy boundaries or distance yourself from the person who hurt you. Recognize that it’s okay to prioritize your well-being and surround yourself with positive influences.
5. Seek professional help if needed: If the pain from a broken heart persists or becomes overwhelming, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance, offer coping strategies, and help you navigate the healing process.
6. Practice self-compassion and patience: Healing takes time, and being gentle with yourself throughout the journey is essential. Avoid self-blame or judgment and instead practice self-compassion. Understand that healing is a gradual process, and there may be ups and downs along the way. Patience and self-care are key.