How to Deal with Grief and Loss
By: J. Marlando
Before diving into these serious topics, I want the reader to know that, in a term, I have been there and done that. I will share a little background: I was born impoverished. My dad was a coal miner so trust me that qualifies for being poor. When I was nearing 40 years old things began changing in my life, I moved to “Snob Hill” and my wife and I had a home, we both drove impressive cars and we had all the stuff we loved around us—horses, dogs, cats, a llama. Life was good. (Today that house would market for nearly $2 million so, as I indicate, we were living high on the hog). Then I made some very poor business decisions and to make the long story short, we lost everything. Yes, including our animals. We, so to speak, tumbled down Snob Hill to No Hill and landed with a whole lot of nothing except, lots of depression.
I was fortunate, through it all my wife encouraged me and although she had taken some heavy hits psychologically and emotionally, she remained loving and supportive even though we both knew I was behind losing all our stuff.
In any case, my wife and I adjusted and started doing the best we could under the circumstances of our “new” lives together. Indeed, my wife had even said, “Well, we might just as well make the best of it, we’ve lost everything, there’s nothing else we can lose.” And then our twenty-one year old son died.
With the above in mind we will continue forward into this article. I have shared the above with you, the reader, because I am not a psychologist, though it is important for you to know that I am well experienced in dealing with grief and loss.
Immediately After the Loss
No matter what your loss—a house, a divorce or breakup, your finances or a loved one—you are probably going to experience a deep aloneness even if you are with a group of friends and relatives. After all, your feelings are your own and belong to your entire past. In fact, all your experiences are involved in the feelings you are experiencing because those feelings are part of you and your unique personality.
When we suffered the loss of our son, I was far more philosophical than was my wife but no matter, whatever I tried to do to comfort her, nothing helped; she remained so to speak on an unreachable island enduring her pain the best that she possibly could.
The first thing that I suggest is that it is important to feel your feelings. Do not bottle them up and resist your grief. Loss hurts, so feel the hurt and never try to bury it or even disguise it. If crying is how you express your sadness, cry. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to put on a false front for others, feigning strength and bravery. This is unhealthy for you as it will prolong the healing process and quite often forces others to hide their feelings as well.
There are some pretty terrible responses that arrive with a serious loss:
The most disheartening and so harmful response is blaming yourself. I remember my wife going through the agony of wondering if fate would have taken a different turn had she done something differently. Such thoughts only increased her sadness.
The other more common feeling is that you are the victim; the “why me” god syndrome. This sometimes will lessen the pain of the loss as, more frequently than not, this replaces grief with anger. You begin blaming sources outside yourself for what has happened—if it weren’t for this person or that, this wouldn’t have happened. Sometimes hate replaces love when a person permits blaming to overshadow their loss. Blame for self and/or others only serves to prolong the healing process, however. And, blaming others only creates bitterness where empathy should be.
Do not expect deep grief to go away instantly. That is, unlike an illness that goes away the next morning, grief can last for a few days, weeks or years. My wife suffered the loss of Sean for seven years before our lives finally returned to normal. When the loss of a child is involved, be prepared for the some radical changes to occur in your marital relationship. My wife and I lost our sexual drives, we stopped talking a lot and joking with each other as we had always done; doing things like going out to dinner lost its romance and its fun and the future had suddenly turned gray and empty. Many, many marriages fail after such a loss but they don’t have to, not if you grasp that the death of a child can place your life in a kind of altered state so you have to muster a lot of tolerance and understanding, one for the other, before the terrible pain goes away.
This no doubt applies to any loss including the loss of financial security. As you know from the introduction my wife and I have been there too. In the case of losing your finances, couples will more often than not start taking their frustrations and anxieties out on one another. In regard to this, I always return to my old standby wisdom: Remember to fight your problems and not each other!
A Time for Healing
I don’t believe that anyone can tell you how to respond after tragic news is given you. Every person in any given circumstance will have an individualized response to “super” joy or sadness. As I said in the above section, your personality based on your entire life experiences, will determine your reaction to great loss, so never stop the tears from flowing or put on the tough-as-nails act to benefit others. When it comes to the tragedy of enduring a serious loss, I suspect the healing process begins immediately even though it probably will feel like the pain will never go away.
The major thing is, keep yourself around other people—friends and relatives. I had a gigantic problem with my wife for years because when it comes to emotions like deep hurt and fear she simply “bottles them up” and keeps her inner-personal life to herself. Once along our way I tried to get her to see a professional but she refused. And this brings us to another vital point. If your grief lingers for a long time and you find that you aren’t letting loose of it, see a professional—there’s nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Grief after all is a form of depression and it can leave your life in an imaginary void wherein you become a prisoner of… yourself.
The best way to avoid many years of grieving deeply is to talk and stay around people; do NOT withdraw into your own cocoon as this will only support and prolong your recovery. On the other hand, don’t force yourself to do things as if you’re recovered, if you’re not—this will not fool those who care about you or yourself. Nevertheless, make it a point to keep around and share with the significant others in your life. This assists you in not getting locked in that “void” talked about in the above paragraph.
Part of the healing process is coming to terms with the situation by acknowledging the truth. You CANNOT change the past; what is done is done. This does not mean you need to forget your loss and simply move on. Indeed, especially the loss of a child lays a weight in your heart/mind that has a kind of permanency in that even years and years after the tragedy certain circumstances will stir old memories and some of the gloom and the despondency of the loss will reoccur. This is natural and so talk about it with someone you love and then let it go again.
In regard to all of this, none of us are superhuman—when loss in our lives is serious, we have serious responses. One thing that helped me recover from our tragedies was looking out the window of our home at the rest of the world and realizing that life goes on and it is both important and necessary to go on with it. I most recently lost a dear friend of mine who had gone through six years as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps—he had seen more tragedy and heartbreak than most of us can even imagine. I once asked him how you kept going under those most terrifying and painful experiences and he told me, “No matter what happens, you must not judge the world but go on loving it.” And, I believe that sooner or later, after losing something that we truly care about, we must, in our own ways, come to this same conclusion
I am not especially a religious person but I personally believe in eternal life; that we are all on our own journey through pockets of self-awareness through an endless sea of consciousness. I do not at all expect anyone to accept this as truth but, at the same time, we all must come to terms with that bad and sad stuff that happens to us and decide it’s time to move on through love of the present, forgiveness of the past and hope for the future. Yes, you’re right, that can take a lot of courage under some circumstances but…you have it in you!