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Grief & Loss


In memoriam
In memoriam

Many people who've suffered grief and loss consider suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, you can call a suicide prevention hotline for support ~ most hotlines operate 24 hours a day and have trained, caring counselors available to listen. In Marin County, CA, call 415-499-1100.

If you've been overwhelmed by grief, you may feel that the pain will never end. But grief counseling, religious or spiritual practice, and the support and patience of friends and family can help you heal during times of grief and loss. Check below for more information on ways to heal.

back to top Introduction

"Grief" is not a single feeling or event but rather a process that reasonably healthy people undergo when bereft of a significant person, pet, or personal item ~ the more permanent the loss, the more intense grief can be. Grief is not a problem; it is normal and natural, although usually distressing and often challenging. Sometimes, grieving seems to never end; at other times, we accept the loss with a minimum of painful feelings. Each person

There are many losses, significant or seemingly inconsequential, that are healed by grieving fully. Grief counseling and other assistance can help us say goodbye to those we've lost as well as celebrate what we've been given that we will never lose. See below for more ways to heal.

back to top The Cycle of Grief

Although each person experiences grief differently with each loss (losing a pen usually feels differently from losing a parent), there are some similarities in the way normal people grieve. Although each of us mourns in our own way, grief often moves through stages that are remarkably similar for many of us. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described 5 stages of grief(1) we experience after a loss:

  • Denial ~ the loss did not happen
  • Anger ~ the loss shouldn't have happened
  • Bargaining ~ how can we prevent the loss?
  • Depression ~ the full impact of the loss overwhelms us
  • Acceptance ~ we accept the loss and resume our lives

A variation on this idea, "The Grief Wheel"(2), suggests the following stages:

  • Shock ~ denial, numbness, disbelief
  • Protest ~ anger, guilt, sadness
  • Disorganization ~ despair, anxiety, confusion, depression
  • Reorganization ~ the return of balance and full functioning, often with changed values

Although many people move consecutively through the stages in an organized fashion, others can move through the cycle several times or seem to jump around between stages in no predictable order.

These and other models of the grief process can help us in several ways:

  • They tell us we're not alone ~ others have had similar feelings and experiences during grief
  • They tell us what to expect ~ although individuals grieve differently, we can generally predict, for example, that almost everyone will experience shock at first after a significant loss
  • They help us better understand what we're going through ~ education about the grief process can help us comprehend the symptoms we're experiencing and relieve guilt and self-blame
back to top Ways to Heal

Most modern societies do not allow time off for mourning; employers in America, for example, allow a day or two of paid leave for grieving, if any. Yet the loss of a child or parent, for example, can take months or years to process. After some losses, a person may never stop having feelings such as sadness or regret and must somehow learn to live with their loss.

Ultimately, we don't get past the pain ~ we go through it. The path to healing from a loss requires that we "incorporate" our pain, to literally take the pain into our body, our corps. We arrive at the place where joy and grief live together by becoming whole. The process of healing, whether from a physical illness or any catastrophic life change, is a transformational journey ~ we are changed in the process. The goal is not to return to the "way we were" again; the goal is to be more than we were before, to include more of life. We must include loss in our love and trust of life.(3)

Mourning can go on
for years and years.
It doesn't end after a year,
that's a false fantasy.
It usually ends when people realize
that they can live again,
that they can concentrate their energies
on their lives as a whole,
and not on their hurt,
and guilt and pain.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross(4)

There are several ways that people can heal from grief and loss. Here are some suggestions:

  • Create a memorial or shrine ~ a headstone may not be enough to honor whom or what has been lost ~ make the memorial public or private as seems appropriate ~ decorate it with aspects of nature that are relevant to your loss (flowers, feathers, crystals, bones, etc.) or personal items that spark feelings and memories
  • Write about your loss ~ in a journal ~ in notes to friends and loved ones ~ in a letter addressed to someone you've lost, which you "mail" by burning afterwards
  • Express your grief through painting, dance or music, alone or with others
  • Organize a ritual to honor what/who has been lost ~ a funeral (if there is one) may not be enough to express the collective feelings of all those feeling grief ~ involve as many people as are manageable (too many chefs in the kitchen, etc)
  • Speak with a grief counselor, therapist or spiritual counselor ~ they will help you to tell the story of your loss, honor it appropriately and heal your wounds
  • "Embrace" grief instead of resisting or suppressing it. For more information, see our article.
1. "Denial & Isolation Phase of Grief" 2002.
2. "Bereavement & Loss" 1999. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
3. "Grief Facts" 2002. The Shiva Foundation.
4. "Condolence & Deepest Sympathy" 2002. Journey of Hearts.

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