Everyone has moments in their lives when a tragedy strikes or they experience a significant loss, or something happens to drastically change the direction of their lives.
The result is often a journey through the stages of grief.
First there is shock and denial. “How could this happen? This couldn’t possibly be happening.”
Then comes the anger. “Why me? How could you?”
Followed by bargaining with yourself and with others and even with God. “If I do this then maybe I can make it work or I’ll feel better. If you do this then we can manage or get through or do whatever is necessary to alleviate the pain. If I go back to church, God, will you spare my friend?”
There is a stage of depression and deep sadness. In this moment loss is all you feel, overwhelming loss and grief. Everything seems to hit you at once. Tears may come non -stop and spontaneously.
Finally, you arrive at acceptance where you surrender to what is so you can go on in your life. It doesn’t make the hurt go away, it simply means you accept your circumstances, you accept this new reality, so you can move forward from there.
We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one. Everyone goes through these stages in their own way. There is no “formula” or timeline for going through loss and grief.
When I work with people who are going through significant change, often precipitated by a loss, I recognize these stages. People want to get through the cycle quickly, denying the grief or trying to find something to fill the void that is left. It could be the loss of a loved one, divorce, the loss of a job, even retirement or maybe the realization that they have been living someone else’s life.
They feel like they are drifting, the ground which held them has evaporated leaving nothing to hold onto. They can’t focus. They become lethargic, apathetic, worried.
This is not unusual. They need help to go through the stages in a healthy way. Eventually however they will no longer rely on someone else to support them. They must learn how to support their own process.
These are practices, behaviors and thought processes that have helped my clients recover from a loss and begin to move through a life transition, releasing the past and focusing on the future they want to create based on a “new normal”.
1. If you can’t focus on work, start a project. Maybe it’s painting the bedroom or planting a garden or training for a marathon. Pick something that involves all of you (mind, body, spirit) and is very concrete and tangible. This creates a point of focus. When you feel like you can’t get up that morning turn to the project or goal. Focus on what you need to do that day to achieve this goal, no matter how small that step is. It moves you forward towards something. It gives you a reason to get up.
2. Create structure. I often recommend that my clients structure their day by writing an agenda of a typical day or week and for a time following it. This alleviates the feeling of being adrift. Incorporate activities, meals, workouts and whatever else that builds resiliency and nourishes you.
3. Take on something new. Learn a new skill, go back to school, pick up a hobby, take an art class, go back to yoga class. Read a new book, something unlike anything you might’ve read before. Becoming a learner again generates curiosity and curiosity generates life.
4. Practice extreme self-care. There are times you won’t even want to eat and may even drink too much alcohol. Decide on specific self-care practices to maintain your wellness. It could be cooking nourishing food as well as a massage or manicure or daily walks. Journaling is a self-care practice that also serves to reflect on your process and help you to move through the grief and loss with awareness and intention.
5. Find community. Most people want to be left alone, and some solitude is necessary. But it must be balanced with support from others. Perhaps an invitation to a quiet dinner or a weekend away hiking in the mountains. Allow friends and family to support you as you go through this difficult time.
6. Do something for someone else. Nothing pulls you out of your own story like helping someone else. You begin to recover meaning in your life, a sense of being present in your life anew and in a different but real way.
7. Therapy. I have to include therapy here. There are times when the hole you find yourself in is so dark you doubt there could be any light. If this goes on for a while you may find comfort and support with a professional therapist who is skilled in helping others through grief and loss.
All these practices are not meant to deflect the emotions that arise from loss, change and life transitions. They are not intended to avoid feeling the grief or anxiety or sadness. There will be times when stillness, solitude and tears will be a necessary element in the healing process. This must be honored too.
As difficult as any life transition or loss may be, recognizing that it is only one point on a much longer time continuum helps you keep perspective and hope. Nothing stays the same. One day may be joyful and another tragic and another indifferent.
Everything will pass.
Provide the love and compassion to yourself that you would give to your best friend. Even that nudge or outright kick in the butt, delivered with love.
When you feel like there is no ground, that is when you discover your wings.
Honor your process, seek support, be patient with yourself, take care of yourself and be assured that on the other side of night is another dawn waiting for you. You may not feel it but it’s there.
Trust that you are stronger than you believe, and you are loved more than you know.
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