Grief and loss: similar issues in bereavement and non-bereavement losses
The words "grief and loss" bring to mind for most people the death of a loved one. We are often surprised at the complexity of grief that occurs after a divorce, separation, the loss of a long-held job, retirement, or when someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness. We may be confused when we find a number of losses can be just as painful and complicated as the death of a significant loved one in our life. True, the form of grieving is different, but it is just as difficult as the death of a friend or family member. If you have suffered a "life loss," you share many thoughts and feelings that actual death brings.
A sense of grief is to be expected
If you have experienced any form of loss, you will grieve, just as those coping with the powerful and intense emotions that follow the death of a loved one. Grief is no respecter of people or events. It does not discriminate based on the fact that your loss was not the death of a loved one. In all cases of loss, it involves the "death" of something or someone that was held dear. If you are going through a divorce or separation, then it is the death or possible death of your marriage. The hopes and dreams of your future with your spouse are dying, and this is an extremely painful process. In some ways, divorce is even more painful than the death of your spouse. With divorce and/or separation, there is a feeling of abandonment and rejection, especially if your partner is involved with someone else. Death is a separation, but it is an involuntary one, not a personal rejection.
If you are experiencing any form of non-bereavement loss, you will experience many, if not all, of the same feelings as those grieving the death of someone significant in their lives. Many intense emotions follow in the footsteps of grief and loss. These may be, but are not limited to, shock, denial, fear, anger, sadness, and depression. The same coping strategies applicable for the bereaved can help those suffering from non-bereavement losses, such as a divorce or separation, retirement, diagnosis of a serious or even terminal illness, loss of a long-held job due to company lay-offs and other reasons, having to move away from your hometown of fifty years, and even when the time comes for your children to move away from home.
Your feelings of grief and loss are entirely valid
"Loss" does not always mean "death." Anytime you are facing a major change in your life, where things will never again be the same, you are coping with a loss. No one is dead, but the feelings of grief and loss are the same. Don't tell yourself "Oh, I'm being silly." No you're not! Your feelings of grieving are just as valid as any other type of loss. To cope with your grieving process, it is crucial to allow yourself to experience all the emotions that are brought on by loss. Not just sorrow, but anger, guilt and even the triumph of making progress in your journey through grief. Many are afraid that if they admit or embrace their emotions that they may "go crazy" or lose control.
Make sure you don't suppress your emotions
In fact, it works in just the reverse. By allowing yourself to express the depth of your feelings, you release them. Suppressed negative emotions will eventually surface in some way, whether you like it or not! Emotionally or physically, your emotions will always catch up with you. You can either express and release these feelings or hold them inside and allow them to fester. Suppressed emotions have a negative effect, not only on your mental health but also your physical health.
In dealing with grief and loss, it is important that you not only express your feelings, but that you discuss them with someone else. Spend time with others who are supportive and understanding. Not only will this lessen the loneliness, but they may be able to help you put your feelings into perspective.
To cope with the intense emotions brought on by grief due to divorce, separation, or other forms of non-bereavement related losses, you need to take care of your body. Make sure to eat regularly, exercise, and get enough rest. Just as grieving can negatively affect both your mental and physical well-being, your physical health can negatively impact your mental health too. This is a vicious spiral that you do not want to get caught in.
Asking for help is not a weakness
If at any point you feel that you are unable to cope with your grief and loss due to divorce or separation, seeking the help of a mental health professional is crucial. Many assume that grief "just happens" and that they should be able to endure the effects without help. There may even be an additional feeling of loss about needing help. "There must be something wrong with me. I should be able to handle this." Although grieving can sometimes be managed without grief counseling, there are instances where it is warranted. No one can make this decision except you, and it's no one's concern except yours.
Needing help from a mental health care professional who specializes in the area of grief and loss is not a sign of mental weakness. It takes courage and strength to seek help when it is needed. There is no shame in seeking medical attention if you have a physical ailment; neither should there be shame attached to receiving assistance for dealing with the crushing emotions brought on by loss. Any time you experience a major change or loss in your life, talking it through with a skilled therapist can be of enormous benefit.
Have hope and courage!
The powerful and overwhelming emotions that accompany grief and loss are common to all of us. The pain brought to the surface, not just by the death of a loved one, but by events such as separation or divorce, is devastating. You can't measure pain. It is impossible to determine if the grief brought on by the death of a loved one is more intense than that endured by those going through a divorce or separation. Loss, in whatever form it takes, can shake your life to its very foundation.
Recovery from grief takes time, but you can find your way through the darkness of grieving. There are many coping strategies to help you as you come to terms with your loss. Best friends, family members, minister and pastors, websites, self-help books, a therapist – all of these are wonderful sources to help you through this difficult time in your life. Change is one of the few things we all have in common. That change may come with the death of a loved one, or the death of a dream. Either way, have hope and courage!
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Grief Library section helpful too.
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