Successfully Coping with Grief and Loss

By Sara West, M.A., MFT

If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, whether they were a family member, friend, or pet, the experience of grief and loss can be a painful, emotionally draining, and sometimes devastating process.

Grieving is not easy but is the necessary coping mechanism we go through that helps us accept the loss and move on with our lives.

While the tears of sadness, sense of immobility, and feelings of hopelessness can sometimes feel overwhelming and leave you wondering if you’ll ever be able to move forward again, working through these feelings is what allows healing to occur.

The Process of Grieving

Grieving is a very personal process, but this doesn’t mean it’s something you should keep to yourself. In fact, it is healthy, and even necessary, to share our grief with others. If you’re currently grieving, you need to find someone with whom to share your feelings. This person can be a friend, family member, or a professional grief counselor.

While we each experience grief in unique ways, and you shouldn’t compare your experience of loss to how others handle similar situations, there are some common feelings you can expect to experience during the grief process:

  • Shock and Denial – Shock and disbelief are common initial reactions to the death of a loved one. Disbelief and denial are often characterized by feelings that our loved one is not truly gone… that they will come back. Numbness, withdrawal, loss of appetite, and muscle tension are all symptoms that accompany shock. Whereas shock may be a relatively short-term phenomenon, denial may continue off and on for some time. Don’t feel rushed into immediately accepting your loss and moving on. Let your grief take its natural course and do what feels right for you.
  • Anger – Anger is another common response to death and can be mild or severe depending on your personality, your relationship with the deceased, and the circumstances surrounding their death. This anger may be directed towards doctors, family members, God, or even the person who died. Allow yourself opportunities to express your anger, but be sure to do so in appropriate ways. Screaming into a pillow, hitting a punching bag, or talking through your anger with someone are all preferable to taking out your anger on another person.
  • Guilt – Guilt is another feeling commonly experienced by people who’ve lost someone close. All of the “what ifs,” “if only’s,” and “why didn’t I’s” are perfectly natural and need to be worked through in order to heal.
  • Depression – Depression is often characterized by feelings of emptiness, lethargy, immobility, and hopelessness. If you begin to experience symptoms of depression, make sure to take care of yourself physically (eat healthily, exercise, and get the rest you need) and try to spend time with people who understand you and are able to listen. If signs or feelings of depression last for more than a couple of weeks, seek the assistance of a professional grief counselor or look for grief counseling and support groups in your area.
  • Acceptance – Acceptance, healing, and change take time, but they will come eventually. Allow yourself time to go through the grieving process and you’ll slowly come to feel a lessening of pain and a return of joy to your life.

Overcoming Grief and Rediscovering Life

Grieving a loss is a healthy and necessary process.

Surround yourself with friends and family members you feel close to and don’t hesitate to cry, reminisce, and share any feelings you have.

If you find you’re lacking a solid support network, or if you feel like you’ve been grieving for far longer than is reasonable, seek out a grief support group or contact a professional grief counselor or therapist in your area.

Just remember:

  1. Don’t compare yourself and your experiences to others.
  2. Things will get better over time, but how long you’ll need is up to you.
  3. You will experience good days and bad days for a while.
  4. Help is available every step of the way. Seek out, and ask for, the help you need whenever you need it.
  5. No matter how unlikely it may seem at the time, you will get through your grief and rediscover all of the joys life has to offer!

Sara West, M.A., MFT

Sara West, M.A., MFT

Sara West is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in her private psychotherapy practice in San Jose, California and have been practicing psychotherapy since graduating from Santa Clara University in 1982.  She works with individual adults and couples, and the focus of my work is helping men and women who are trying to navigate life’s transitions, who may be suffering from depression, anxiety, work-related stress, past or present trauma, alcoholism or chemical dependency, and who are having difficulties in their personal or professional relationships. Visit Sara’s website here and the link to the original article here.

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Latest update: October 28, 2016
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