If you are looking for some guidance as to how you can be proactive in dealing with grief and loss, the following vignettes describing how others approached aspects of their grief may be helpful to you.
Darla, a 27-year-old single female, had a close relationship with her mother. They seemed to look at the world through the same lenses, had the same sense of humor, and Darla felt like she could tell her mother anything without any fear or shame. Once Darla moved out of the family home at age 20, they still had regular contact via telephone and face-to-face visits.
They even had a standing lunch date, the first Saturday of each month come rain or shine. Although they made every effort to see each other more than once per month, in the event that life became super busy, they had the assurance that they’d at least see each other for lunch that particular day.
You can imagine the devastation when Darla suddenly lost her mother to a fatal car accident. Darla’s journey of moving through her grief took at least seven months before she could talk about her mother without crying and about a full year before she reported feeling somewhat “normal” again.
Although she did a number of things to help herself in that year (and beyond), one of the things she did was to write her mother a letter saying good-bye. Because Darla had lost her mother unexpectedly, saying good-bye was something she hadn’t had the opportunity to do; unlike how it is when death is anticipated as in a terminal illness.Being able to put pen to paper and express in words all those things she would have liked to have said to her mother not only provided Darla with a cathartic experience, but it began to give her some sense of closure – something that had really been lacking for her.
Another thing that Darla did was to make sure she planned something to do for the first Saturday of each month. Darla quickly discovered after her mother’s death that those Saturdays were especially difficult as they reminded her of those sacred lunch dates she was now missing.
Darla would be the first to tell you that she still thought of her mom on those particular days, but having something pleasurable to do such as an outing to the zoo, a movie matinee with a friend, or even helping a fellow church member rearrange her living room kept her from dwelling on her loss.
Gregory, 48 years old and married with two children, had been working at the same company for eleven years. He was good at his job and had even been promoted twice within those eleven years. Gregory had the aspiration to keep climbing the corporate ladder until he reached two positions up from where he was during his eleventh year.
Gregory felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath him when the company decided to restructure its management, ultimately resulting in it being nearly impossible for Gregory to ever attain that one coveted position he’d been dreaming about. Gregory felt sucker-punched. As he grieved the loss of his dream, he gradually started feeling bitter, too.An exercise Gregory used to help him with his grief and associated bitterness was to develop a gratitude list. Without denying the pain of a dream unfulfilled, Gregory made it a point to identify all the benefits that encompassed that door to his dream being closed.
Gregory realized that he would have more time with his wife and children as the position he aspired to have would’ve required extensive travel. Gregory also realized as he talked with others about his loss, that it can be ‘lonely at the top.’
He developed new-found gratitude over the fact that in his current position he was surrounded by co-workers he could fellowship with. There were other things, too, that Gregory put on his gratitude list, but I think you get the point.
Sheila was an animal lover through and through. Cats, guinea pigs, dogs, sheep – you name it, she loved it. Needless to say, she always had a pet at home. One of her long-time furry friends was Biscuit. Biscuit earned his name not only because he snuck one of her homemade biscuits off her plate when he was just a pup, but the color of his fur was similar to the color of a biscuit.
Sheila had Biscuit for 14 years before he passed and went to doggie heaven. He had been such a wonderful companion to her and her husband those 14 years and it was a big loss for both of them. There was no way that Sheila wasn’t going to grieve over Biscuit being gone. The walks together, playing fetch at the dog park, Biscuit sitting at her feet when she’d read in the evening – all of it was a big adjustment for Sheila.
An exercise that helped her with some of the sadness, though, was journaling about all the ways that Biscuit, even though not physically walking the earth, was still living on because of his existence. Doing this exercise not only brought Sheila comfort as she sat down to do it, but it gave her joy in the days to come as she reflected on the “legacy”, so-to-speak that Biscuit left behind.
The following are some of the things that Sheila identified when she sat down to journal. Biscuit had given Kelly, the little girl that lived next door, a positive experience of dogs. Prior to meeting Biscuit, Katy had been very scared of dogs. She would cry and avoid them at all costs.
Biscuit’s existence very much made a lasting difference for Katy. Sheila also volunteered Biscuit as a “comfort dog” at the local hospital. He brought a lot of soothing to patients, whether they were scared, lonely, or just needed a pick-me-up. Those experiences that Biscuit gave the hospital patients could never be taken away from them and Sheila found great satisfaction in that.
The grief and loss exercises discussed in the above vignettes won’t in-and-of themselves take away grief. But that isn’t the intention of them. The intention and hope are that they will reduce and/or make the grief more tolerable. If even more help is needed, though, you may want to consider seeing a professional counselor. Having a safe, empathic, skilled clinician may be just what is needed.
“In Despair”, Courtesy of Whoislimos, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man’s Best Friend”, Courtesy of Michell Orr, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “My Family”, Courtesy of Limor Zellermayer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Flower Field”, Courtesy of Alexandru Tudorache, Unsplash.com, CC0 License