Recently I spoke with a friend whose spouse was going through a major career change. Downsizing had forced him to find a new position in a different company, and even though the new role seemed like a perfect fit, he just couldn’t seem to adjust.
“He’s sad and quiet all the time,” my friend said. “It’s almost as if someone died.”
This made sense to me, because something meaningful had died. My friend’s partner was probably experiencing grief, which can happen whenever we face a life transition that feels painful or disorienting to us.
GRIEF IS ANOTHER WORD FOR LOSS
Most of us associate grief with death. If you are grieving for someone who has passed, you know how difficult this transition can be. Waves of sadness may wash over you at any moment of the day or night. Everything reminds you of the person you lost. You may feel so troubled that you have difficulty sleeping, eating, working or socializing.
Would it surprise you to hear that grief affects us when we face other major losses, too? For example, we may grieve when we:
- End a marriage or close relationship
- Send a child off to school
- Lose a beloved pet
- Move to a new home, but miss the old one
- Close a business or end a professional partnership
- See a treasured friend walk away from us
- Suffer the loss of a dream that inspired us
- Develop a life-threatening disease
- Lose our financial security
In fact, nearly anytime we face the disappearance of something precious, we may move into a period of grieving.
WHEN YOUR LOSS ISN’T CLEAR-CUT
Sometimes we feel grief when a close relationship shifts dramatically but doesn’t actually end. The person is still alive, but there are barriers that keep us apart.
Psychologist Pauline Boss, PhD coined the term “ambiguous grief” to describe losses that don’t involve death, yet feel just as painful. For example, this can happen when someone close to us suffers a disabling injury or illness, moves to a faraway place or struggles with substance use. There is a physical or emotional distance that triggers deep feelings of grief, yet others may not see or understand what we’re going through.
COPING WITH GRIEF
If you’ve suffered the death of a loved one, you may be receiving a good deal of support from others in your life. Your friends and family realize that grief is natural, which makes it easier for them to respond to your needs.
If your loss doesn’t involve death, people may not fully grasp how you are feeling. Only you can say how this profound loss affects you – which may make grieving a lonely struggle. Here are some tips to help you manage.
- WITNESS YOUR FEELINGS. Acknowledging the depth of your pain can help you see that you aren’t flawed. You’re simply going through a process of grief that is natural and justified. Realizing the significance of what you’ve lost will help you begin to recover.
- BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. Engage in calming activities such as exercise, meditation or quiet conversations with a good friend. These pastimes will not only take your mind off the pain, but also give you a more hopeful focus.
- EMBRACE GRATITUDE. Make it a point to notice the good things in your life. This will help you realize the potential that lies ahead of you. The brain’s natural tendency is to focus what isn’t working. However, we can gently direct ourselves to observe things that make life worthwhile even during grief-filled days. Something as simple as a fragrant bunch of flowers, a friend’s smile or the songbird outside your window can bring you joy.
- DON’T BLAME YOURSELF. Resist the temptation to dwell on what might have gone differently. Focus instead on forgiving yourself for past mistakes and embracing where you are now. Try to show yourself the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend.
- FIND A GOOD LISTENER. If you know someone who is an empathetic listener, share your feelings openly. A professional therapist can also be a good resource. Therapists are trained to listen objectively and offer guidance that eases the pain and offers new perspectives.
MORE RESOURCES THAT CAN HELP
In an earlier blog post, I went into deeper detail about the symptoms of grief. You may find it reassuring to read about all the different ways grief can be experienced. It will affirm that your feelings are part of a process that all of us go through at various points in our lives.
There are many organizations that offer grief resources and support. Open to Hope offers podcasts, articles and books you may find helpful. As a therapist working with adults of all ages in Oak Park, I am here for you and your loved ones. Grieving is a powerful experience, and having the support and perspective of a professional therapist can be a great source of comfort. Reach out to me anytime to schedule a private appointment for yourself or someone you care about.