By Jo Christner, Psy.D.
After a loved one dies, people often have an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. They feel lost, and the process of despairing and searching begins. Not only has our loved one died, we’ve lost our sense of connection. “S/He was my life.”
It’s difficult to describe the depth of this kind of loneliness, feeling as though no one could possibly understand or fathom the range of emotions and tremendous impact that the loss has had on our life. The connection to a loved one, to that life, is now gone.
How do you to heal from the trauma of loss and reconnect to life in a way that again can become meaningful? It can help to do the following:
• Reach out to others (which includes exploring how relationships have changed and finding ways — the energy and the courage — to create new ones). Begin to search for and make connections again, learning to reconnect to one’s own life, although changed.
• Normalize your grieving and feelings. Realize that that the pain and the impact of the loss is a normal part of the grieving process. Be willing to allow a place for these feelings.
• Identify and explore the areas in your life where you can begin to heal. Begin… one minute, one hour, one day at a time.
The quote, “We’re not primarily here on this earth to see through one another… we’re here to see one another through,” succinctly describes a solution.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.
Reach Out to Others
Healing begins, even though not recognized at first, when someone reaches out to others. That is why support groups are so valuable in the healing process. Helping individuals who are grieving to reach out, share, listen and even give feedback in a group begins the process of eventually being able to reach out to others outside of the group. It feels safer, at first, in a group of people who are suffering the same kind of injury to share hurts and confusion.
It’s not easy to come into a group of strangers when you are feeling so vulnerable, lost and despairing. I believe that it is an important step in the healing process. Grief group members are courageous individuals… they have begun to reach out and to heal.
Normalize Your Grief and Feelings
When you are grieving and feeling such intense pain, it is a normal reaction to not want to feel. It is difficult to tolerate these kind of feelings. When an individual can see that the therapist and the group can tolerate and even understand their pain… then the pain has a place to be shared.
Being able to personally “sit” with (allow without necessarily fixing) someone’s emotions (ranging from numbness, severe depression and tearfulness to feelings of guilt and anger) assists them to begin to talk about the feelings, begin to tolerate their feelings, and learn to trust that the feelings are not only a normal part of the grieving process, but the way through.
We’re not normally taught how to grieve until we have a loss… then we realize that we don’t know how and fear that we’ll never recover. Trust your feelings… they are telling you where you need to be right now.
The swings and intensity of emotions can sometimes make a person feel as though they are going “crazy” or that they will never be “ok” again. Normalizing the grieving process and feelings can give you a sense of hope that you will heal.
Identify and Explore
If you live in California, you may have experienced the earthquake of 1994 (or some other natural disaster). Immediately after the quake, you were only aware of yourself, those with you and your immediate surroundings. When “the shaking settled” and you walked outside, you began to see that the devastation was widespread. It is the same with the grieving process. We begin to realize that many or all areas of life have been impacted. Nothing is the same.
It is important to look at the areas in our lives and be aware of the impact so that we can begin to heal and begin to adjust to the changes that have occurred. This is done in STEPS… as we encounter each of the areas that have changed in our lives.
S.T.E.P.S. is an acronym that summarizes these areas.
S= Spiritual: how the loss impacted our connection and relationship to God, to our religion, our our belief systems, to our soul.
T= Thoughts or thinking: how the los has impacted the way that we think… about ourselves, others, our lives, our future and the way that we perceive the world.
E= Emotions: how the loss impacted the way we feel… experiencing new emotions and certainly an intensity of emotions that may cause you to feel that you are going “crazy” or will never heal.
P= Physical: how the loss has impacted the way our bodies feel… possibly a loss of energy, change in sleep and eating patterns, feeling physical aches, pains and complaints of illness.
S= Surroundings: how the loss has affected everything around us… our family, friends, living situation, finances, activities and social situations.
Those suffering a loss need to recognize, normalize and eventually heal the changes and feelings. Shock, depression, lonliness, anger, resentment, guilt, panic, disorganization, confusion and, eventually, hope are normal. The process of honoring your feelings, taking steps to walk through the grieving and learning to believe that you will survive the loss, reaching out to others and beginning to create new “connections” are all important aspects of healing.
Rabbi Joshua Liebman in his book, Peace of Mind, says:
“The melody that the loved one played upon the piano of your life will never be played quite that way again, but we must not close the keyboard and allow the instrument to gather dust. We must seek out other artists of the spirit, new friends who gradually will help us to find the road to life again, who will walk that road with us.”