Processing Grief When A Loved One Is Lost

Processing Grief When A Loved One Is Lost

Ed Moran at age 17 with his dad.

by Ed Moran, LCSW

Not too long ago I was paying a visit to the local Walgreens store. It was the day before Father’s Day, and, as one would expect, the greeting card aisle was loaded with sons and daughters, some young and some not so young, fishing through what was left in the racks. I smiled as I walked past and chuckled to myself. That would have most certainly been me in that aisle, sifting through the worst of the worst cards, the rejects left behind by people with better time management skills than I have. Then it hit me: 15 years have passed since the last time I needed to buy a Father’s Day card. Could it really be that long? It truly feels like yesterday, in some ways, since Dad was laid to rest. A lot has changed since then, yet a lot has remained the same.

As a therapist working with the bereaved, it’s sometimes hard to fully set aside one’s own losses. The stories that are shared in therapy are emotional and deeply personal, yet almost everyone can identify with them. Some losses are sudden while others involve long-term illness and prolonged caregiving. The relationships with the lost loved one can be extremely close or extremely complicated, which can certainly impact how one processes grief. However, regardless of the nature of the relationship, there’s no doubt that grief can put even the strongest person through an emotional roller coaster ride like no other. One client described it as “kind of bi-polar,” feeling fine one moment and bursting into tears the next, with no apparent trigger. This would often keep that client at home, due to the fear she would have an emotional outburst at an inopportune time. When someone is grieving, it can feel like the hurt is never going to heal. There are things we can do, though, to help work through the pain of loss and work toward a new normal.

  1. Try to remember that what you’re feeling is normal. Sadness is a natural response to loss, and it may come and go for quite a while.
  2. Surround yourself with supportive people. This is particularly important when the dust settles and the calls and outreach become less frequent.
  3. Don’t isolate. Try to reengage in life as soon as you can. Isolation can magnify the sadness and depression associated with grief.
  4. Maintain your routine. Bereavement can cause us to become loose with discipline and let go of healthy things like diet and exercise.
  5. Get plenty of exercise.
  6. Share stories of your lost loved one. Or ask others to share their stories with you.
  7. Try to get plenty of sleep. Even without a loss, a lack of quality sleep can leave us feeling sluggish and reduce our tolerance for stress.
  8. Avoid soothing with drugs or alcohol. It can contribute to feelings of depression and also interfere with quality sleep.
  9. Seek counseling. Grief can make you feel alone and disconnected. A bereavement group can provide a supportive environment that allows you to identify with others.

Over the past 15 years I learned a lot more about grief than I ever expected. When Dad died, we grieved together as a family. We also grieved alone. My siblings and I had to work through the sadness of losing our father, while my mom had to work through losing her husband and become comfortable with another new identity. For 35 years, she had been a wife and mother, and then, when Dad got colon cancer, she became his primary caregiver. Now, with Dad gone, so was her sense of daily purpose. As time passed, we all settled into a new normal. I will always miss him, but now I focus on the wonderful memories that bring a smile to my face whenever I think about him. It’s this connection to Dad that allows me to chuckle rather than shed a tear as I walk past the greeting card aisle on Father’s Day.

 

Ed Moran, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with Family Centers. Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, CT, and Westchester County, NY, Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.

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