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When the familiar hurts: getting through grief

Created date

October 22nd, 2009

Waking to the nudging of a pet, setting the table, getting the mail, and turning off the lights before bed are simple acts. But after a loss whether it s the loss of a person, place, or pet elements of the everyday can usher in the unbearable feeling that life is over.

Giving pain a name

[caption id="attachment_6393" align="alignright" width="169" caption="(File photo)"][/caption] "Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by an end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior," says Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute and coauthor of the Grief Recovery Handbook. To get a grasp on it, people may try to put a timetable on grief or break it into stages. However, like life, loss is unpredictable and unique to each person who experiences it. "The first thing most people who work in the field will tell clients is that there s no usual course. Every person goes through a grief reaction differently," says Barbara Morris, M.D. "The stereotypes that this will help or time will help are not particularly useful for most people." While the grieving process varies, she adds, several responses like anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite are quite common. "The most reported reaction is the inability to focus or concentrate," says Friedman. "What it looks like is this: you are in one room and decide to go to another room to do something. When you get to the other room, you can t remember why you went there or what you were going to do. That experience is close to universal for grieving people." "People think they re going crazy," adds Jane V. Bissler, Ph.D., LPCC, an expert in grief counseling who established the "They may think it is senility or Alzheimer s. Maybe they ve already had a few memory lapses, but boy, they have lots more when they re grieving." "Almost any health problem, while not necessarily caused by grief, can certainly be made worse by grief," says Morris. "Particularly when people stop paying attention to their lifestyle things like exercise and diet then their other condition is going to get worse."

Reach out, let others in

With grief eating at them, many people don t have the strength to nourish themselves through food, exercise, and rest. "Typically, when people experience grief, their energy level goes down. It is also not uncommon for grieving people to experience radical alterations in their eating and sleeping habits," says Friedman. Since they don t always have the energy to reach out, it s up to others to reach in and help. "If you know somebody who s grieving, keep a special eye out for that person," says Bissler. "Concentrate on them, invite them out, and offer to do things. It s the comrades that people have those are the folks who really have the pulse. They can say, Hey, I m going to the grocery store. Why don t you go with me? or What can I pick up for you? or I made chili today, and I ve got an extra couple of bowls. Let me bring some over for you, or I ve been wanting to see a movie, but my husband doesn t want to see it. Would you go with me? "When you make it about yourself instead of about the grieving person and what the grieving person needs, a lot of times they ll follow suit rather than feeling like, Oh, they re offering me charity. Try to go through the back door to get people motivated to get out of their houses," she adds. "It s really a creative process, the act of creating a new normal, because things will never be the way they once were."

Be gentle with yourself

"People have a lot of losses, and they re not always from the death of a spouse or family member. There s loss related to a home, loss of a prior community, loss of friends, loss related to health issues," says Morris. "Those things are important. People sometimes belittle their own reactions, saying, I should be happy that I still have a spouse or I should be happy; I moved and it s beautiful. They can feel like there s nobody who understands, nobody who can help them. But we want people to understand that they re not alone, that here is help, and that we can help people to feel better regardless of whatever loss they might be suffering from."