Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Philadelphia

Dealing with Grief

Grief is a universal experience, yet unique to every individual. It is part of the human condition. The Grief Recovery Institute's definition of grief is "the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind" and "the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior". Grief is about loss and change. Grieving is about learning how to let our hearts, not our intellect, guide us through our lives.

There are over 43 identifiable loss experiences that can produce grief. These include the loss of a loved one, anyone who has moved, changed jobs, gotten married, ended their addictions, retired, survived the holidays, or has experienced a change in their finances or health. Other losses include the loss of trust and safety, often associated with childhood abuse or growing up significantly dysfunctional or alcoholic home. The pain associated from a loss of safety and trust can create lifelong issues of poor self esteem, confusion and feelings of constantly struggling without knowing why. We spend years in therapy addressing what essentially are issues of grief.

Studies from the Grief Recovery Institute indicate that in an overwhelming majority of cases, depression and anxiety are the result of unresolved grief issues. They are the result of learning how to address loss and change with our brains. "It just takes time", aside from being untrue, is an intellectual response to a broken heart. You can't think your way out of heartbreak. It is like trying to paint a room with a hammer. It is not your head that is broken, it is your heart.

We actually have code words for grief that keep us from acknowledging our conflicting feelings around change or loss…burnout, pressure, stress, overwhelm, confusion, exhaustion. This may be the first time you have thought about these words as indicators of unresolved grief. Imagine, as you heal, these words changing to energized, calm, curious, excited, clear, happy. This is what happens as you recover from your loss experiences, one at a time.

Forget what you have been told about dealing with loss:

  1. Just give it time.
  2. Get over it.
  3. You can get another.
  4. Be strong for others.
  5. Keep busy
  6. Don't feel something.

None of these are helpful, and none of them address the heart. Familiar isn't always best.

Instead, These 4 Steps May Help:

First, find a way to express your feelings. Unresolved grief is nearly always found in hidden or repressed emotions. Don't worry if you don't know how to express them – you haven't been taught how! It takes practice, creativity and a safe environment to become skilled at letting your heart open and feel instead of using your intellect to make it all better.

Second, accept the situation as it is. Even more than that, accept the situation as if you had chosen it! By doing this, you assume complete ownership and release any victim energy that might keep you unresourceful and unempowered. As you become willing to see the situation as one you chose and even created at some level, you begin to see the gift within the loss.

Third, forgive everyone everything. Forgiveness resides in the heart and is a gift to you.

Fourth, create an opportunity to complete the relationship that has caused the grief. You can say good-bye using a ritual or perhaps a letter that you will never send. Do not complete with the other person.

Luckily, and amazingly, recovering from grief is not complicated. Even lifelong issues that have never been addressed can be successfully completed. Initially it takes some courage, some time, and it is helpful if you are supported by someone who is familiar with the grief recovery process. It requires a bit of self-examination, a willingness to address issues you've avoided and the possibility of some tears. And then, gradually, you gain clarity and freedom, sustained joy, and an ability to be fully present for yourself and those you love. A broken heart can be a pathway to happiness, not the end of the road.

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