Grief and Loss

It's All About Relationships

Grief and Loss

What do you think of when you hear the phrase grief and loss? If you are like most people, your immediate association is losing someone when they die. While this is understandable, we are dealing with grief and loss through small, medium, and more intense ways on a daily basis. Losing a job, moving, financial loss when an unexpected expense comes up, kids going through life transitions, break ups are just a smattering of examples of losses we encounter in our everyday lives. Loss is often abrupt and unexpected, which often adds to the emotional load of our troubles. We also carry transgenerational loss: loss due to losing our indigenous roots, loss of our innate connection with place, and some of carry loss specific to our cultural heritage, such as folks who have people in their ancestral line who were slaves, or killed in pogroms, or put in relocation camps, or had their children taken away for “educational purposes” thereby interrupting cultural and family life. These kinds of transgenerational losses can cause a person to feel vulnerable, unsafe, or not connected without having a clear idea about the fundamental causes of the malaise. If you are looking to explore epigenetics and how historical trauma may be impacting you, it’s important to choose a therapist who has experience in this area: don’t be afraid to ask!

It’s important to remember that loss is a part of the human experience, and that it is common for loss to cause us to feel destabilized. It can also pull on the memories and emotions of other times that we have had to give up something that we did not want to give up. Loss can lead to being shut down and in denial, it can lead to grief, it can help bring in the next thing unfolding in our lives. Recognizing loss for what it is, and acknowledging it in ourselves and others can deepen our appreciation of all that life has to offer.

We are social animals, and when we are dealing with grief and loss it is very helpful to connect with other people who can see us, and reflect to us our experience, at least on some level. Choose to share your loss with people who can simply hold space for you; people who are not going to try and fix it. If you don’t have people in your life who know how to do that, see if asking them to just listen is a solution. If that doesn’t work, consider working with a therapist or accessing support through an agency specifically set up to listen to callers and not find solutions (such as Sexual Assault Support Services for survivors: 800 788 4727). If you loss is related to the death of someone in your life, hospices offer grief support groups even if you did not use the services of that hospice while your loved one was dying. Losing someone you love when they pass away is not really just losing one thing, and the multifaceted experience of facing the death of a loved one calls for even more robust and skilled support; it’s important to find ways to reach out to others to help you hold your grief.

No matter what your personal journey is where it comes to grief and loss, know that your legacy as a human asks that you feel your grief, but it also asks that you feel your joy. Losing something dear to you is not something you get over, but it is something you can learn to integrate and find your “new normal.”

Here is a table that represents different models for identifying stages of grief.

Stage Model (Kubler-Ross, 1969)Phase Model (Bowlby, 1980)Task Model (Worden, 1991)Companioning (Wolfelt, 1992)Dual Process Model (Stroebe & Schut 1999)
DenialNumbness/ShockAccept Reality of LossAcknowledge the reality of deathAccept reality of loss AND accept reality of changed world
AngerYearning/SearchingExperience and work through pain and griefEmbrace the pain of the lossExperience pain of grief AND take time off from grief
BargainingDisorganizationAdjust to life without deceasedRemember who died “Death ends a life not  a relationship”Adjust to life without deceased AND master changed environment
DepressionReorganizationRelocate deceased emotionally and move onDevelop a new self-identityRelocate deceased emotionally & move on  AND develop new roles, identities, relationship
AcceptanceN/AN/ASearch for Meaning
Accept Reality of LossReceive ongoing support from others

Worden, JW (2009) Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th ed). New York: Springer Publishing

Note that the first column outlines Kubler-Ross’s model. It’s important to note that Kubler-Ross worked with people who were dying, while the other models on this chart outline stages of grief that can be applied to any loss, even though the examples use examples of loss related to death. Up until recently, when therapist and social workers talked about stages of grief, they were mostly referring to grief carried by those who had lost a loved one because of death; we are learning to expand our definition of loss. People who are aging lose their ability to do the things they used to do, people who are getting married are gaining one status, but losing another, graduating from an educational system can be felt as a loss even though it’s an achievement at the same time. Loss is in the eye of the beholder; if you are experiencing grief due to a loss of any kind, it deserves your attention as you process your loss and heal. In all the models in this table, it’s important not to compare yourself to the model as if you can plot your healing on a linear trajectory: in all the models individuals might be working on more than one stage at a time, might skip stages, might be at one stage for a long time, might be at other stages for a blink of an eye. These models are like scaffolds for us to try on different ways of looking at grief as a process.

No matter what your personal journey is where it comes to grief and loss, know that your legacy as a human asks that you feel your grief, but it also asks that you feel your joy. Losing something dear to you is not something to figure out how to “get over,” but something you can learn to integrate and find your “new normal.” Have faith in your healing process! I encourage you to be brave enough to reach out if you find yourself in need of additional resources. We grow and change with optimal grace and adaptability when connected to other people, so find your support network and lean into your grief. It has gifts to share.