Have You Lost Someone You Love?
When we lose someone important to us, it can make us feel like we have lost our entire footing. Suddenly, our old ways of making meaning and sense of the world no longer seem to fit. To many of us who have experienced a significant loss, this disruption feels like a cosmic undoing, leaving us to wonder how we are going to go on without this person in our lives.
After a loss, people often tell me that one of the hardest things they deal with is how others around them view their grieving process, and more, with the spoken and unspoken expectations placed on them in regard to how they "should" or "should not" be grieving. For example, while friends and relatives have moved on, that person may be still dealing with their loss. They hear things like, "It’s been almost a year, why aren’t you over it already?" or "They lived a long life," or "Don't worry, they're in a better place now." This is especially true in today's world which often treats death as a subject not to be discussed.
Multiple losses exist.
It is important to remember that when we lose someone significant to us, more than a life is lost—a relationship is lost, who we were to that person is lost, and our way of living and relating to the world around us has dramatically changed.
This can be very isolating.
Initial Responses to Loss
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in her seminal book, On Death and Dying, described a 5-stage model of grief, of which many people are familiar with. She believed that people experiencing a loss went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We used to believe that these stages were experienced in a linear way—meaning, that a person had to go through the denial stage to get to the anger stage, and so on.
We know now, however, that grief is not a linear event, and that everyone’s grief response will vary greatly depending on several factors, including (but certainly not limited to) the person’s relationship to the person they lost, a person's culture and how that culture defines appropriate grieving behavior, how a person makes meaning of the death, and what the roles are in a person's family system.
While not all deaths are traumatic in nature, it is important to remember that any death is almost always at least momentarily traumatic.
Some common initial responses to loss include:
Feeling like you’re on autopilot
Experiencing changes in your sleep and appetite
Feeling disoriented and confused
Feelings of inadequacy or like you are going crazy
While these feelings can be scary, it's important not to view these responses in terms of positive and negative. In fact, the research shows us that these behaviors can serve as protective factors. Remember, all coping mechanisms serve a purpose: to help protect our psyche. This is why in my practice, I ask people not to judge what comes up, but instead, to approach it with a sense of curiosity.
When the fog lifts.
The period following the initial loss is often when people feel the most depressed. Once the numbness wears off and the fog lifts, a person may begin to realize the true gravity of their loss. This can be a dramatic confrontation or slow and painful realization—that life is not as we once thought it to be. For example, a person may find themselves tiptoeing down the hall so as not to wake their elderly father, only to realize and remember that he died some months earlier.
“Without doubt, the grief journey requires contemplation and turning inwards. In other words, it requires depression, anxiety and loss of control. It requires going to the wilderness.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt
Permission to grieve.
First and foremost, grief counseling is about providing you with a safe space to examine and feel your grief however it shows up. The goal of grief counseling is not to take away your symptoms, but instead, to make your grief process visible—to help you experience your grief in a way that lends to healing. Grief work is also about finding meaning, helping you to make sense of, and respond to, your loss.
Grief counseling will help you:
Reconstruct the nature of your relationship with the person you lost
Find a sense of control when it feels as though you have lost everything
Help you learn how to deal with your new normal, instead of trying to cure your grief
Understand the true nature of your loss
What grief counseling is NOT.
From my perspective, therapists and counselors who view their role in grief counseling as a way to help people overcome their grief are in danger of negating, or getting in the way of, the ongoing connection that a person can have with the person they have lost—a connection that can often lead to profound positive changes. For one, a person may start to view themselves or others differently in response to processing through their grief. They may feel a sense of empowerment, or develop a new voice. One example of this is Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which was started by a grieving mother who wanted to help prevent someone else's child from being killed by a drunk driver.
Again, if we treat grief like a disease, then we risk inevitably suggesting to ourselves and others that there is some prescriptive way to grieve—a “right” way to grieve. It is clear, however, that grief is an ongoing process—one that ebbs and flows, so stopping there could risk wrongly painting grief as one-dimensional experience whose only end is pain and heartache.
“The only way beyond the experience of grief is through the experience of grief.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt
"Isaac is an incredibly skilled therapist and grief counselor. During his work at a hospice agency he was able to create an accepting, safe environment to delicately guide clients through their grieving process. His work is client-centered, empathetic and he has the ability to meet people where they are at. He embodies both compassion and therapeutic knowledge. You can tell he truly cares about each client and is made for this work."
- Camille Johnson, LMFT
How I can help.
I have had extensive experience helping people who are grieving the loss of a loved one—or the loss of a relationship they wish they'd had. Before I went into private practice, I ran the bereavement department for a local hospice agency where I not only oversaw grief counselors, but provided grief counseling to people trying to pick up the pieces after their loss.
What to expect.
As you transition and go through your grief, you may start to feel like your grief no longer runs your life. While the pain of your loss will still be there, it will no longer take your breath away. Instead, it can become sustaining, helping you to develop of a new philosophy of living, a better sense of yourself, and lead to a deeper understanding of your relationships. If you are up for the journey, grief counseling can help you experience profound existential and spiritual growth, and increase your resiliency along the way.
The reality is, it's impossible to avoid loss in life, but you don’t need to feel alone. Make an appointment for grief counseling today.
Isaac Smith, MAT, LCSW, NTP is a holistic psychotherapist located in Sacramento and Fair Oaks, CA. He specializes in addiction, anxiety, depression and grief and loss. Isaac is trained in several modalities, including Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Problem Solving Therapy. He is passionate about the interplay between mental health and nutrition, and is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. To find out more about Isaac click here: therapy and counseling in Sacramento and Fair Oaks.