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3 Important Aspects of the Grief and Loss Process

Oct 06, 2022


And now begins the holiday season, which for some people brings about thoughts and memories of whom we are missing in our lives. Although many people tend to think of Halloween, or even Día de los Muertos as holidays that derive from sinister beliefs and practices, the truth is far from that! This is a time to celebrate our loved ones that have passed, and to honor the dead in general.

Whether or not we want to admit it, death is a natural part of life, and it’s the life, death, rebirth cycle that thousands of cultures across the world have honored for millennia. The purpose of this blog is to bring to your awareness various facets about death.

In psychotherapy, as in life, we experience the loss, the fear, the pain, the grief, and the inevitable change that death brings. But death is not just the act of ceasing to live, it can mean so much more! There can be death to old thought patterns that no longer serve you, death to a piece of your identity, or even the death of your career. You can also mourn the loss of someone whom you had to cut from your life in order to heal. In a way, that person is dead to you.

Whatever meaning of death you have experienced or will experience in the future, I hope this blog broadens your perspective of the definition of death…and I encourage you to explore this with friends, loved ones, or your therapist.

1. There is no set path, or stages

I imagine you are all familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), but one common misunderstanding is that these stages are to be applied to all forms of grief. But this is not true! They were actually dis covered as a process that the terminally ill tend to undergo. They are not necessarily stages that all people experience. You may find yourself experiencing each of these emotions, and whether you do or you don’t, the most important thing for you to know is that whatever you feel, at whatever phase of your grief, it is normal!

You are not going crazy, you are not doing it wrong. There is no particular way that people do or do not grieve, but you must let grief run its course. The more you try to avoid it, deny it, or stuff the feelings down, the harder it will be for you in the future. 

2. Expect the unexpected

A common grief/loss experience is the seemingly random path we take through our emotions and day-to-day lives. I have experienced this, and virtually all my patients report the same. Some days we feel confident, put together, and functional, and other days we may feel depressed, down, and unmotivated. We may think we are backsliding in our progress, but please know that you are not going backward. You are actually still moving forward through your grief, but it just gets messy sometimes.

Another normal, telltale sign of grief is to have waves of emotion hit, which seem to come out-of-nowhere. You could be in the grocery store, going to bed, in the middle of a conversation with someone, and then feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, anger, confusion, or numbness. My advice to you, should this be part of your experience, is to ride out that wave. Breathe and let it wash over you, as it will pass. Remind yourself that you are grieving and that you expect the unexpected.

3. Be gentle with yourself

Those of you who have worked with me for a while know that this is my motto. At all times, especially when you are grieving, you need to cut yourself some slack. I know your inner critic likes to remind you of the do’s and don’ts, but try to notice when you are pushing yourself past your limit.

When someone is grieving, all their psychological resources are dedicated to internally processing the loss, trying to make sense of what happened and what life is now. If you continuously try to force yourself to do more or be more, you’re only draining what little resources you have left.

So remember to be gentle with yourself.   

If any of this feels overwhelming for you to follow, or if you don’t know where to start, seek support! Again, this can be friends, family, a mental health professional - someone with whom you feel safe and who will honor your thoughts and feelings. You do not need to walk this path alone!