Understanding Loss

We are accustomed to the loss of things, sometimes even things of value. Loss has been defined as a separation from something or someone of value. The depth of the loss is related directly to the meaning or value the item or person had to us. Our feelings regarding the loss can range from sadness and pain to happiness and relief.

The loss may come from our own inadequacies. We misplace an item or we damage it from carelessness. Loss can also occur when something happens that is out of our control. A thief breaks into a home and steals property. A tornado rips through an area and destroys a home.

We can also lose people. Sometimes it happens through our own carelessness – a friendship is not nurtured and drifts apart; hurtful words are spoken in a moment of anger; we choose to develop one friendship that excludes another. Sometimes it happens through no fault of our own – the other person chooses to abandon the friendship; the person moves away and the logistics of maintaining the friendship become a stumbling block.

The ultimate loss that a person can experience occurs through a death. Death ends the interaction of the relationship. It leaves hope for future times of joy between two people unfulfilled.

Grief | When the Loss Causes Pain

Grief is a natural response to loss. It occurs over a period of time. A wide range of emotions accompany grief. Although grief tends to refer to the emotional response following the death of a loved one, people with cancer can be described as grieving the loss of a breast, the loss of the ability to reproduce, or the loss of mobility or independence.

the emotions accompanying grief

The emotions felt during grief can range in intensity. These emotions can often seem incongruous with other emotions also felt. For example, one may feel incredible sadness and pain at the death of a parent who battled courageously against cancer. But if the one grieving was the caregiver, a feeling of relief – that the person has escaped the horrors of pain, but also for the relinquishing of the personal responsibilities associated with giving care. Some of the emotions that are commonly experienced during the process of grieving are:

  • Shock, numbness and disbelief
  • Denial
  • Relief
  • Guilt
  • Loss, emptiness, abandonment, loneliness
  • Pain
  • Anger
  • Worry and anxiety
  • Peace and happiness

how a person grieves

The terms grief, mourning and bereavement are often used synonymously. There are slightly different nuances to the meaning of each word. Grief is the emotional response to the experience of loss. Mourning is the outward expression of the emotions of grief. Mourning can be driven by one’s personality and experiences, by traditions and practices approved by a culture, or by religious or spiritual rituals accompanying death. Mourning and grieving are usually seen as processes – stages or cycles – of adapting to life after the loss.

Bereavement tends to refer to the period of time immediately following the loss. Those in the immediate family of the deceased are often referred to as the bereaved. Though there is no set amount of time for bereavement, it usually includes the time of receiving the news of the loss, the arrangements regarding the final resting place of the deceased and the visitation of friends and family, the time of the funeral services, and the time of adjusting from intense mourning and grief to a more normal lifestyle.

Coping | Strategies Used to Work Through Grief

Counselors refer to coping as the effort to solve personal problems, either through inner conflict or conflicts with others. How effective the coping becomes depends on the type of stress or problem, the personality of the individual or individuals involved, and the particular circumstance of the experience. Coping is a very personal process. As no two people grieve alike; no two people cope with the grief alike.

There are both positive ways and negative ways that people cope with grief. Negative strategies would include forms of denial, escape and avoidance. Positive strategies could include the support of friends and loved ones, keeping healthy through exercise and diet, and positive activities to help others.

Strategies will take into account the personality and experiences of the one grieving. When positive strategies are found that can guide and assist the bereaved, those grieving can find strength to adapt to life without the loved one.