When Grief and Loss Consume Us
Grief is a healthy, perfectly natural response to a loss. The more significant
the loss, the more intense the grief. Queen Elizabeth II once said that
grief is the price of love. And that makes sense. After all, we tend to
grieve that which we’ve truly loved, but lost.
We often associate grief with the death of a loved one, but there are many
other losses significant enough to prompt a grief response. “Leaving
a job or a home you loved, losing your health or independence, experiencing
divorce or separation in your family or the end of any long-term relationship
– all of these are reasons that a person might feel a great sense
of loss,” says Elsie Garza, MSW, Behavioral Health consultant at
Columbia Basin Health Association (CBHA).
“I’ve counseled parents who’ve lost a child to miscarriage
or to death, as well as parents who’ve lost contact with children
in a separation, or because their adult child is incarcerated. Sometimes,
the losses that
aren’t death aren’t recognized as a loss that would be grieved, but they
absolutely are,” Garza says.
Even though grief is universal, the process is very personal. It looks
different for everyone. “While the stages of grief are similar for
most people, no two people experience grief exactly the same. People start
at different places. They might return to certain stages throughout their
grieving, because grief isn’t linear. It’s a process. And,
it’s a process that can last a lifetime. For most people, grief
never completely goes away, but becomes something that is easier to manage,”
Most behavioral health professionals agree that when the grief causes a
person to experience somatic (physical) changes in behavior, mood, or
activity, it’s time to seek professional help.
“If the loss and grief keep a person from eating normally, or from
sleeping well, or being able to work or take care of their children, I
would encourage them to talk to someone. Help is definitely available,”
Garza says. A counselor can help the person navigate the more difficult
waters of grief, and return to functioning in the world again, for themselves
and for other living loved ones.
Sometimes when a friend or family member is deeply grieving, we’re
afraid to “say the wrong thing,” so we end up not saying anything.
But the silence or lack of acknowledgment of the person’s pain can
actually make it worse. Garza says, “What we do is more important
than what we say. A nonjudgmental acceptance of the person’s grief
and just being there for them can go a long way. Let them know it’s
okay to cry. It’s okay to be upset. Grief is complicated and sometimes
messy. Not carrying it alone can be very helpful.”
Garza says that many of her clients find assurance and hope through counseling.
Some also find comfort in their faith, in support groups, in family and
close friends, and in self-care. When a person isolates or feels unable
to process their feelings, they’re more likely to engage in unhealthy
coping strategies, such as self-medicating with substances, or avoiding
anything to do with the subject of their grief. They’re also more
prone to clinical depression.
“Grief is a time when we really can’t overstate the power of
connection. Being open and accepting to whatever a grieving person is
feeling at the time. Being present and listening to them could be all
that they need.”
To learn more about managing grief and loss or would like a one-on-one
with Elsie Garzaplease call CBHA at 509.488.5256.