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6 Things to Know When Coping with Loss

A Simple Guide to Navigating Grief

Image by Parée Erica, used by permission  https://www.flickr.com/photos/pareeerica/6798798917

Everyone at some point in their life faces a jarring, unexpected change. It may be the death of a loved one or beloved pet, the end of a friendship, the loss of a home, or any other drastic event that changes your life from that moment forward. The author of this article is not a licensed psychotherapist, but he has experience with a great deal of personal loss of many different kinds. Here are some things that have been helpful in learning to cope.

1. Give yourself time to process.

Life is not a movie, and reactions to trauma are not instant and dramatic, like you see on television. In extreme situations, your brain can shut down as a coping mechanism and you may feel nothing at all for a while. Don't force yourself to feel or react a certain way. There can be pressure from friends and family to either "Let it all out" or "Put on a brave face." Forcing an emotion in the midst of a crisis can greatly impede the coping process. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel, whenever you feel it.

2. Accept what has happened.

Once you are able to understand how you feel about your loss, accept the finality of the situation. Your life moving forward from this moment will not be the same, and you will not be quite the same person. Avoid falling into denial by trying to pretend that nothing has changed. In order to function, you will need to find a "new normal."

3. Use your loss to bond with others.

No matter how difficult your loss is, there are many people who have gone though, or are currently going though something similar. Reach out to support groups and be willing to hear other people's experiences and share yours. There may be a temptation to use your grief to isolate yourself from others, saying things like "No one could ever understand, I'm completely alone." Everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives, and everyone has to choose to use that loss to either connect with others, or to drive others away.

4. Find a tangible connection to your loss.

The finality of loss can be very difficult to work through. Having, for example, the collar of a pet who has died, or the glasses of a grandmother who has passed, can help you feel more connected to them. The item should be of great sentimental value—preferably something you can hold. When you are feeling especially emotional, hold the item and recall a few happy memories of your loved one.

5. Look into other means of support.

Many people find that faith and sacred texts can be extremely comforting in a time of loss. Simply googling "scriptures for comfort in loss" can bring up many inspiring passages. If you are having an especially hard time, consider speaking to a religious leader, grief counselor, or professional therapist. There is no reason to feel embarrassed for needing professional help to get though a traumatic loss, and seeing a therapist early on in your grieving may help prevent mental problems and unhealthy coping mechanisms down the road.

6. Adopt a "Survivor Mentality."

In the author's experience, what you say about yourself eventually becomes what you believe about yourself. If you say or think negative things like "I can't do this," "This isn't fair," "I can't handle this," etc., you will begin to feel like a defeated person, beaten down by life. On the other hand, if you empower yourself with positive thoughts such as I can get through this, I'm tough, I can survive anything, you will begin to feel like a survivor. Think of your emotions as having a wound that needs to heal. Surround yourself with positive people and things that create an atmosphere of peace. Although it is true that your life will always be different moving forward from this loss, that new life can have many happy memories, proud accomplishments, and meaningful relationships.

A wise person once said: "Trauma is like a broken bone, but the death of a loved one is like an amputation. You can recover from both, but one leaves you forever altered." Hopefully these notes from personal experience will help you cope with the loss in your life, and help you move forward towards a new normal. 

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