Healthy Grieving

by Peggy Sweeney

Adults frequently associate grief with the death of someone loved. However, this is not the only reason we grieve. We confront grief whenever we experience a loss or traumatic event: a divorce, retirement, a debilitating illness or injury, addiction, abuse, the aftermath of a fire, flood, or an earthquake. The list of grief-generating experiences is endless. Healing our grief is a life-altering event and a very personal experience.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a world-renowned expert in the field of death and dying, is credited with the development of the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her studies often thought to define the stages of grief following the death of a family member or friend, actually focused on terminally ill patients.

This revelation changes the dynamics of how we perceive healing the grief we experience after a loved one dies or an unexpected or unpleasant event happens in our life. If we try to follow Kübler-Ross’s stages in succession, we are led to believe that our grief will be permanently resolved. Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced a loss or traumatic event, this is not necessarily true. Grief is not just the emotions and feelings we have during or immediately following a loss. Grief has no set time pattern nor does it ever go away completely. We don’t get over it as some people want us to do. Grief can, however, be an instrument of learning about love, life, and living. Grief can have a positive or negative impact on our life. Grief is choices. We can choose to journey through our grief and, at the end of our journey, emerge a better person for having experienced grief (positive) or we can stuff it within our very being, try to ignore it, and fail to receive its rewards (negative).

Everyone responds to grief differently. No two people will react to a shared grief experience in the same way.

Although we may share similar feelings and emotions with other family members, friends, or co-workers, many factors will determine the end result of our personal reactions to trauma and grief. These factors may include how the loss occurred, our emotional involvement with the person or event, our previous loss experiences, and what lessons we learned as children for coping with emotions and feelings.

Your individual responses to grief are both normal and natural, and not a sign of weakness. Grieving is very necessary to heal the mind and spirit. Grief involves the whole person; the physical, mental, emotional as well as spiritual self. It is not governed by a set of rules that, if followed consecutively, will erase the grief. In other words, you do not deal with one emotion or feeling and move on to the next. You do not deal with anger or sorrow for a few days and remove it from your list. But rather, you flow back and forth between some of the same or previously unacknowledged emotions and feelings until, after many months or even years, you come to the end of your grief journey. The intensity and duration of your individual grieving process are comparable to the loss. In other words, the more emotionally involved you are with the person or event, the deeper the emotional trauma and grief.

Grief is overwhelming! Working with your hands, participating in physical activity, or just relaxing can help reduce the stress in your life. Be good to yourself during your grief journey. Grief exhausts even the strongest of bodies. Eat healthily. Get rest. Realize that your life, as you once knew it, will never be the norm again. You must design a new normal life. Take your grief and use it to make a positive impact on yourself and the world around you.

Eliminate negative thoughts. They will only add more grief and stress. Do not rush to heal your grief. The lessons you will learn along the way are invaluable. Many people have learned to reinvest in life and living following a traumatic event. Seek them out. They have walked the path of grief and will be your guide. They will offer understanding, a gentle hug, and strength.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney.

Peggy Sweeney

About the Author: Peggy began her career as a mortician and bereavement educator thirty years ago. Since 1990, Peggy has developed and taught countless workshops on coping with traumatic loss and grief for professionals and families including the Grieving Behind the Badge program for public safety officers and emergency response professionals.

She has hosted monthly support groups including Comfort and Conversation for grieving adults and teens and Halo of Love for bereaved parents. Peggy also served her various hometowns as a firefighter, EMT-B, and Hospice volunteer. She was humbled to receive the Firefighter of the Year award from her Texas fire department. Her editorial contributions have earned her several awards and have been featured in both print and electronic media including an article in the Firemen’s Bible by the Holman Bible Editorial Staff.

No stranger to grief, Peggy has experienced the sudden death of her dad in 1975, the slow death of her mother to illness in 2002, the death of her brother 24 hours after his birth when she was 12 years old, the suicide death of her 49-year-old brother-in-law, the years of waiting for her estranged son to contact his family. But the most painful grief she has felt is the death of her baby (Noel) due to an ectopic pregnancy. 

You may contact Peggy if you have a question or wish to suggest a topic of interest. peggy@sweeneyalliance.org

 

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