When we hear the term “loss & grief”, many of us immediately reference the death of a loved one. Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful and can be difficult to move forward. Similarly, but obviously different, when we experience life changes we can experience many of the same uncomfortable, painful emotions. Divorce or separation can bring the loss of relationship, family, place of residence, friends, or social groups. Personal injury can bring the loss of sports, recreation, day-to-day chores, or family activities. A career move or retirement may leave us without part of our life identity, co-worker relationships, or familiarity. Those who have experienced a geographical relocation might grieve their family of origin, friends, or the landscape they left behind.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was an early pioneer into the study of loss and grief. Through working with terminally ill patients, she proposed her belief that there are five stages to loss and grief. Granted, life changes are far from someone in late stages of illness. The five stages of Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance are certainly experienced in many situations, but the key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them in precise order (In fact more current studies show that some people don’t experience every stage). The stages can, however, be helpful as a guide in the grieving process – to see where you might fit in at certain times of change.
During these life transitions, we may tell ourselves, “Don’t dwell on the past”, “this new situation will be better”, or “look at the positives!” While saying these encouraging phrases can be healthy, they may not be honouring the grief and loss of what we are leaving behind. Here are some helpful hints to try after you have recognized the actual loss:
Identify your thoughts. Expressing them in some way and perhaps sharing the process with someone you trust can be helpful in accepting the change forward and learning to cope.
Journal about your process of change – something magical happens from mind to heart to paper when we explore situations with a pen.
Learn some ways to practice self-care here.
So here’s the important key about loss and grief in life changes: There is no one way to grieve. There’s no time limit. Everyone’s experience is different and unique. What’s more important is to ask ourselves the question, “What loss do I need to grieve so that I can better move forward?”