Understanding Loss & The Grief That Comes With It

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Losing someone you love is one of the hardest parts of a person’s life. When hearing the news about your loss for the first time, it can be hard to imagine that person gone since they were a part of your life-- big or small, direct or indirect. But when the news hits you hard, it can cause you a lot of distress and devastation. The collection of emotional and physical outcomes associated with your loss is known as grief, and it can take you on a ride of some of the mind’s most intense emotions. Before we dive deeper, if you are experiencing loss, have experienced it in the past, or know someone who is going through it, know that grief is normal and universal. Grief is a recovery process. It allows us to honor those we loved as a way to gradually detach from the sadness, accept reality, and have positive memories of the person. The mind uses this natural technique to free up the energy that is solely bound to the person you lost, so we can re-invest in that energy and use it for something else.

It is important to know about the different phases of grief. You might be surprised to find yourself in one of these phases, or possibly in between some of them.

The first phase is shock and denial, which usually occurs when you first hear the news. The disbelief that you just lost a person in your life may cause you to experience numbness. It is okay to feel numb at first, and it can even last for weeks. Do not feel guilty that you aren’t crying or angry, it is the buildup of the process.

The second phase is anguish, which is when you begin to go through the emotional and sometimes physical pain from your loss. The anguish will happen in waves. It might be there for a couple of hours, then die down, then come back in a week, then die down again. Think of this period of grief as the tides of an ocean—the tides are never always high or always low. You will experience both, and you have to accept that. You may experience characteristics of bereavement, shock, guilt, anxiety, depression, and even anger. You may also notice physical symptoms, like insomnia, isolation, weight loss, and lots of crying. Do not fight or suppress those waves, as they are allowing your mind and body to flush out what hurts so you can re-invest in your energy. You might also feel like you still have communication with the person you lost, whether it comes as a personal sign, a presence, a voice, a photograph, and more. This is healthy to feel, even if you’ve never experienced it before. They are known as after-death communications, which are links with your loved one that can help you find peace and comfort during these painful times. It provides you with the subconscious feeling that death does not fully take your loved one away.

The third phase is the resolving part of the grief. This is when your body begins to accept the loss for what it is, and you begin to occupy yourself with other parts of your life. You might not have the same lifestyle, but your emotions becoming more stable will allow you to keep yourself busy.

Understanding how to cope with your grief is oftentimes the hardest part of the process, and much of it depends on your personal preferences and how you feel at that given moment. They should be activities that keep you busy in non-stressful ways and give you the time to step back and recognize how you feel. Such activities include:

  1. Having moments of feeling grief. As mentioned, suppressing or fighting these emotions does more harm than good. Grief allows your mind to free up the negative energy, so you can use the relief to find better energy for other parts of your life. Healthy grieving is when you allow yourself to feel the raw emotions but also remember the person with a sense of peace instead of pain. To get to a place of acceptance, you have to allow yourself to feel.

  2. Talking to family and friends. It doesn’t even have to be about your loss, it can be about other topics that make you happy or passionate. The mind is often tired after heavy feelings and going off topic can help clear negative energy.

  3. Unconventional activities such as reading, writing, drawing, singing, dancing, and more. These are activities that you usually turn towards when you want to wind down or get into your own headspace, which can help your mind recognize how you feel and try to understand it all.

  4. Be part of social activities, like eating, watching movies, shopping, or other fun activities you usually do with your good friends. It allows your mind to find happiness in other things in life, which is a good way of recognizing life’s beauty in the midst of a lot of sadness.

  5. Self-care is one of the most important parts of going through grief. This means getting sleep, cleaning yourself regularly, eating healthy, allowing yourself to breathe, and exercising. If you don’t know where to start, try building a daily schedule of what you will do during the day (maybe you’ll start off with a nice breakfast, followed by doing some yoga, and then going outside to read a book). If you plan little by little, you will start to feel more like yourself, eventually creating an automatic routine.

Knowing what works best for you is often difficult and finding your ground will take a while. Though grief can undoubtedly cause lots of emotional and physical pain, you have the ability to gain something from your loss. Learning to embrace grief for what it is will help you find resilience. As Yumi Sakugawa once said, “sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.”