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  • Resilient Practice

How to Handle Loss

"You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair." - Old Chinese proverb

When we lose someone we love the effects can be devastating. Sometimes there may have been an extended period of illness and we are given time to prepare for the inevitable. This, whilst a torture in itself, does give us the opportunity to contemplate life without. Death can however be very quick with no warning. The ones left behind often flounder.

In truth, however we lose someone, coping with that loss, grieving, is very difficult.

Grief is not always about losing a loved one. We can feel a sense of grief whenever we lose something we value. This may be a beloved pet, a friendship, a job, our health or status.

Things to remember about grief:

  • Grief is our reaction to loss

  • Grieving is very personal. Everyone will deal with loss in a different way. Some people grieve openly, some more internally. As long as you are processing what has happened, there is no correct way to do this.

  • Timeframes are not set. Grieving takes time.

  • Coping strategies are varied. Crying is normal and so is not crying. Laughter is protective. Talking about a loved one remembering positive times is healthy, reliving negative memories is not.

  • Grief is a journey but there is no set path. Different models of grief have been proposed, the most famous is that of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief first described in 1969: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance[1]. This model gives the impression that grief is a linear process and one has to go through the stages in a set order. This is not the case. Using extensive peer reviewed research, George Bonanno has proposed 4 different paths through grief: resilience (the bereaved has a stable level of psychological and physical functioning), recovery (the bereaved has a period of reduced functioning that returns to normal usually a few months), chronic dysfunction (extended sorrow with a prolonged reduction in function lasting years) and delayed grief or trauma (when suffering appears months after the loss[2].)

When we experience loss it feels as if you have no control over what is happening and that is true. We cannot change what has happened. We do, however, have full control over how we respond to what has happened and if grief is our response to what has happened then we have control over which path we choose.

When we lose something we value, we can reframe the scenario and see the change as more of an opportunity than a trauma. If we can give meaning to our loss then our recovery is healthier.

When we lose someone we love, we can hold on to gratitude, remembering everything they meant to us and everything that they taught us.

We can focus on how blessed we were to have had them in our life.

Loss is the other side of love. If we did not love the person so much it would not hurt so badly.

If we can be grateful that we had a person who was so deserving of our love in our lives, then we will generate positive thoughts and feelings.

Try This:

This visualisation tool can really help reframe our grief experience

Sit quietly and give yourself a few minutes to centre yourself.

Breathe deeply using the diaphragm.

Focus on the tidal in and out of that breath.

Allow your mind to settle and become calm

Feel the tension drain out of your body

Now think about the person you have lost

Remember their face

The things they did that made you laugh

The things they did that made you mad

The sayings unique to them

If you have an item of their clothing use your sense of smell to invoke memories

Think about how they made you feel

Remember the wonderful times you had together

The lesson’s they taught you

The things in yourself that are a product of their love and care of you

The pride they had in you and you in them

See them clearly in your mind

Invoke a true sense of them

Feel the connection to them in your body

Now allow the image to drop away but the feelings to remain

Surrounding you

Comforting you

Supporting you

These are your gift

The person does not need to be with you for you to experience them

They have given it freely to you and it is yours to use whenever you need.

Be grateful to your loved one for this beautiful gift.

Remember that you are creating gifts right now for all the other people in your life

Make them count

[1] Kübler-Ross E (1969). On Death and Dying. [2] Bonanno G (2009) The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After a Loss.

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