Introduction: Grief and Healing from Loss
The Bio-Emotional Expression of Grief
Articles about Grief and Healing from Loss
How to Deal with Grief (from SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Resources to Help with Grief

Introduction: Grief and Healing from Loss

Throughout the lifespan, we experience multiple losses. When we think of loss, what usually comes to mind first are the losses with a “Capital L.” Losing loved ones, getting let go from a job, becoming disabled, or experiencing the aftermath of a major natural disaster. While these losses are likely the most consequential and painful, we lose sight of the “smaller” and sometimes more subtle losses that happen more often, yet also take a toll.

There’s a Buddhist saying that each life has “10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.” We can’t really escape this reality. So, the challenge is, what can we do about this?

Well, the good news is that every human being has a potent, inner healing tool that, when used skillfully, can actually help us not only recover from loss, but actually help us become more open-hearted and open-minded as a result. That tool is called grieving.

In other words, the very thing that causes us pain presents an opportunity to become healthier, bigger people.

Unfortunately, Western culture doesn’t fully support this very natural process of mourning when we experience loss (whether of the “capital or lower case” type). The mainstream culture makes a little room for the grieving, like the 3-5 days of bereavement leave one may get from work. But, that amount of time is really paltry, especially when it comes to significant losses. That short of a period is mainly in service of the corporate-capitalist value system that puts a certain type of work (paid and profitable) ahead of everything else. While our culture does recognize the losses surrounding death and dying to some extent, the smaller, but still impactful losses can go virtually unnoticed.

It’s possible that many mental health conditions (whether clinical or subclinical), are, at least in part, related to accumulated, unresolved grief. Since our culture doesn’t provide ample time, space, and awareness around grieving, each person needs to pay attention to this area and carve out the resources they need.

For some, connecting with professional resources will be most helpful, like working with a therapist or spiritual counselor. Support groups, whether run by professionals or peers, can also provide a space for healing and growth. Some may prefer a more solitary approach, engaging in a contemplative practice like meditation or journaling. For others, it can happen around an artistic activity, as a creator or participant/observer, like when listening to music or sketching a picture.

The key here is to be deliberate about it, to make space for it on a regular basis, particularly during times of greater loss. This can actually be quite healing and empowering, fostering greater wisdom, open-heartedness and resilience in the face of the “10,000 Sorrows” that life inevitably brings.

And, I’ll finish this section by returning to the “10,000 Joys” part of the Buddhist saying. When it comes to grief and loss, we can help ourselves by really deepening into positive experiences when they occur. Our fast-paced culture, combined with inherent tendencies to look toward the future, can make it hard to be fully present when the good is happening. How many times have we all, for example, been eating a great meal and at the same time, are already thinking about what comes next. This is our wiring, so it requires some effort to actually stay present and soak up the positive. Pausing to deepen into the joy and delight that life brings can help us stay more grounded, serving as a great form of stress (and loss) inoculation.

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The Bio-Emotional Expression of Grief

One of the primary expressions of grief is through the bio-emotional process of crying. Crying is one of many natural responses we have to pain or distress in general, whether it’s related to loss or not. This crying ability works exceptionally well when allowed. The problem is that we learn, early in life, to suppress this most natural and powerful healing mechanism. We’re told to “be a big boy or girl,” that it’s weak to show strong emotions, and that we’ll feel better when we stop crying (a message that may be well intended, but nevertheless suppresses a natural expression).

Look at any young child and you’ll see spontaneous tears flow quite easily after an upsetting incident. You’ll also see them shift out of their distressed place, often quite swiftly, and get back to the normal ruckus of play or engagement in life. As adults, we too can regain this malleable response of going in and out of our pain in the way that young people do. The years of conditioning that teach us to shut down our feelings may provide some temporary relief, but the fallout is that we lose some of that vibrancy, flexibility and broad-minded thinking in the process.

So, anytime you can access this innate healing tool, take advantage! Whether it’s an endearing memory, touching conversation, moving film, or piece of sweet music that triggers a welling up – use that as an opportunity to feel more deeply. You’ll likely experience a greater sense of wholeness and integration afterward. (Note: for those who perhaps cry quite readily and get flooded by emotions, the approach may be different. Balance and emotion regulation is healthy, so if you fall into this camp of getting saturated with feelings in a way that causes more distress, you may want to consult with a professional and/or seek out other means of balancing your system).

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Articles about Grief and Healing from Loss

When is Grief Complicated?, by Cassandra Powers, NP, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Good Grief: Is there a better way to be bereaved? by Meghan O’Rourke, from the New Yorker

What is Grief Counseling?, by Paula López, LCSW

The Five Stages of Grief, from David Kessler at Grief.com

Best & Worse Things to Say to Someone in Grief, from Grief.com

Levine Talks: excellent writings, videos and books from two pioneers in thinking and loss, death and dying, Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

Children and Grief, by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
(Spanish Version) – Los Ninos y la Pena por la Muerte de un ser Querido

Coping with Grief: When a Loved One Dies, from the National Institute of Health

End of Life: Helping with Comfort and Care, from the National Institute on Aging

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“How to Deal with Grief”

The following information is from SAMHSA – the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

What is grief?

Grief is the normal response of sorrow, emotion, and confusion that comes from losing someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life. Grief is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss, a move away from family and friends, or loss of good health due to illness.

How does grief feel?

Just after a death or loss, you may feel empty and numb, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating. You may become angry—at a situation, a particular person, or just angry in general. Almost everyone in grief also experiences guilt. Guilt is often expressed as “I could have, I should have, and I wish I would have” statements.

People in grief may have strange dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to return to work. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they will pass.

How long does grief last?

Grief lasts as long as it takes you to accept and learn to live with your loss. For some people, grief lasts a few months. For others, grieving may take years. The length of time spent grieving is different for each person. There are many reasons for the differences, including personality, health, coping style, culture, family background, and life experiences. The time spent grieving also depends on your relationship with the person lost and how prepared you were for the loss.

How will I know when I’m done grieving?

Every person who experiences a death or other loss must complete a four-step grieving process:

1) Accept the loss.
2) Work through and feel the physical and emotional pain of grief.
3) Adjust to living in a world without the person or item lost.
4) Move on with life.

The grieving process is over only when a person completes the four steps.

What if these feelings won’t go away?

If you recently experienced a death or other loss, feelings of grief are part of a normal reaction. But if these feelings persist with no lifting mood, ask for help.

Where can I find help?

The following list of organizations and Web sites provides information and support for coping with grief:

The Compassionate Friends (national office)
P.O. Box 3696
Oak Brook, IL 60522-3696
630-990-0010; Toll Free 877-969-0010

Home


A national, self-help support organization for those grieving the loss of a child or sibling.

Fernside
Bethesda Professional Building
4360 Cooper Road, Suite 101
Cincinnati, OH 45242
513-745-0111 (M – F 9:30 am – 4:30 pm EST)
http://www.fernside.org
Grief information, resources, and support for grieving children and their families.

RENEW: Center for Personal Recovery
P.O. Box 125
Berea, KY 40403
859-986-7878
http://www.renew.net
A grief counseling center for individuals and families that are experiencing loss, with a specialty in grief recovery counseling for traumatic deaths.

Online Resources

GriefNet
http://www.griefnet.org/
A Web site that provides information and resources related to death, dying, bereavement, and major emotional and physical losses.

Growth House, Inc.
http://www.growthhouse.org
A source of quality information and resources on death and dying issues.

Transformations
http://www.transformations.com
A web site about self-help, support, and recovery issues.“

(End Source: SAMHSA)

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Further Resources:

GriefShare: online resource to locate support groups for grief.

Death Cafe: an organization that helps foster awareness and discussion around death & dying by bringing people together to talk in casual spaces, like cafes. “At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.

National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization

Zen Hospice: hospice serving the San Francisco Bay Area

The Compassionate Friends: Supporting Family After a Child Dies

Getting Help for Your Grief, from the National Institute for Health (NIH)

Hospice Foundation – Spanish Language Resources Page

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