Living With Grief And Loss
Updated: Feb 17
Images of special events such as birthdays, anniversaries or the holidays traditionally centre around family gatherings and celebrations with loved ones. The picture focuses on the hearth and the atmosphere is joyous. Nothing shatters the idea of togetherness more completely than the devastating loss of a loved one through death. This creates a tremendous void in the experience which can feel overwhelming and unbearable. We miss the person terribly and often question how we can ever expect to survive special anniversaries that would have included the deceased. Most people can identify with a funny story or a special trait associated with that person and we remember their habits and idiocyncracies. Death is among the most difficult topics to discuss. No one wants to even imagine what it is like to experience a loss or to be reminded of their own mortality.
In order to support others during their time of grieving, we must have some understanding of what they’re going through. We can begin this process by envisioning an ideal family holiday and the and the images it would conjure up such as warmth and togetherness. Now remove one of the people from your picture. It could be your spouse or child or parent or even a pet. Their absence could be related to a separation, illness or a death. How would the second image be different from the first one? Most importantly, how would you feel about the missing person? What would you miss about them?
When we lose a loved one, a painful emotional wound is created that results in a life altering experience. The depth of the effect of loss on the survivor is immeasurable. Individuals heal from such a tragedy in their own way and in their own time. Often we are left with emotional scar areas that become triggered at various significant occasions. One of these key times is around the holiday season when we become flooded with memories involving repeated traditions that remind us of how that person contributed to the holiday.
During a recent chat with an acquaintance, she shared that her mother had passed away 20 years ago when she was a child. She questioned why after such a long time, she still experienced sadness and grief around her parent’s death especially during special events. As children, our parents are important to our feelings of security wellbeing and self-esteem. The more we relied on this person to maintain our sense of worth, the greater difficulty we likely experienced at their death and for years to come. Even after becoming adults, special occasions invoke those same intense childhood feelings of loss when our parent was no longer there to validate and protect us. Regardless of whether our parent had been difficult to be with, we must still grieve the loss of every child’s fantasy of the “perfect” family. This is even more pronounced if following a parental death, our future experiences during special events were unpleasant. Tragedies that occurred in childhood can seem timeless and any unhealed emotional wounds continue to impact us especially during special occasions even though we have matured in so many aspects of our lives.
Another painful childhood experience accentuated during special events is a loss of belonging that results from long term removal from our family of origin home for any reason. Many adults still maintain unhealed childhood feelings of rejection or anger. They repeatedly question what they could have done that was so unacceptable it resulted in removal from home and may inaccurately blame themselves for not being “good enough”. They fail to realize that these decisions were about their parents limitations and inability to care for them.
People who have lost a loved one often tend to isolate themselves. They prefer not to “impose” their suffering on others. They do not particularly want to wear a “happy” mask suggesting that all is ok, or, run the risk of being subjected to another’s good intention to cheer them up. It is important to be mindful that people who are suffering need support and empathy in their place of grief.
People who are grieving often report feeling guilty for experiencing enjoyment in their life. They have a notion that they must experience pain and sorrow to honour the memory of the person who has died. Unless they are feeling morose they will be at risk of forgetting them. On the contrary, as an individual begins to heal from their loss, their impressions of their loved one shift to a more positive place and still remain a part of their focus.
When grief and painful feelings continue indefinitely you may benefit from assistance coming to terms with the death.
The following list will clarify your need for additional support in your healing process:
•Your intense sadness following the death hasn’t lessened although many months have passed.
•You maintain a sense of responsibility for the death. (this is especially true of suicide.)
•You cry uncontrollably whenever you are reminded of them (eg. seeing their photo or on anniversaries or during holidays).
•You still have difficulty at work with concentration, getting along with co-workers or completing your assigned tasks.
•You are relying on alcohol, over-the-counter medications, or illegal drugs to help you sleep or to make it through the day.
•You are having difficulties in your intimate relationships. Your partner may complain that you are angry, emotionally withdrawn or remote.
•You are experiencing significant weight loss or gain and poor sleeping patterns.
•You avoid thinking and talking about death.
(if you checked 1or 2 items, you are probably recovering.
If you checked more than 3 or 4 items and it has been greater than one year since the death you may need some help coming to terms with your loss).
Our healing process needs to honour all of our memories. It is necessary to embrace our hurt during special events. People we trust can help us come to terms with our loss and they will appreciate and respect each moment of our grief with us.