Healthy Grieving

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Peggy Sweeney

Adults frequently associate grief with the death of someone loved. However, this is not the only reason we grieve. We confront grief whenever we experience a loss or traumatic event: a divorce, retirement, a debilitating illness or injury, addiction, abuse, the aftermath of a fire, flood, or an earthquake. The list of grief-generating experiences is endless. Healing our grief is a life-altering event and a very personal experience.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a world-renowned expert in the field of death and dying, is credited with the development of the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her studies, often thought to define the stages of grief following the death of a family member or friend, actually focused on terminally ill patients. This revelation changes the dynamics of how we perceive healing the grief we experience after a loved one dies or an unexpected or unpleasant event happens in our life. If we try to follow Kübler-Ross’s stages in succession, we are led to believe that our grief will be permanently resolved. Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced a loss or traumatic event, this is not necessarily true. Grief is not just the emotions and feelings we have during or immediately following a loss. Grief has no set time pattern nor does it ever go away completely. We don’t get over it as some people want us to do. Grief can, however, be an instrument of learning about love, life, and living. Grief can have a positive or negative impact on our life. Grief is choices. We can choose to journey through our grief and, at the end of our journey, emerge a better person for having experienced grief (positive) or we can stuff it within are very being, try to ignore it, and fail to receive its rewards (negative).

Everyone responds to grief differently. No two people will react to a shared grief experience in the same way. Although we may share similar feelings and emotions with other family members, friends, or co-workers, many factors will determine the end result of our personal reactions to trauma and grief. These factors may include how the loss occurred, our emotional involvement with the person or event, our previous loss experiences, and what lessons we learned as children for coping with emotions and feelings.

Your individual responses to grief are both normal and natural, and not a sign of weakness. Grieving is very necessary to heal the mind and spirit. Grief involves the whole person; the physical, mental, emotional as well as the spiritual self. It is not governed by a set of rules that, if followed consecutively, will erase the grief. In other words, you do not deal with one emotion or feeling and move on to the next. You do not deal with anger or sorrow for a few days and remove it from your list. But rather, you flow back and forth between some of the same or previously unacknowledged emotions and feelings until, after many months or even years, you come to the end of your grief journey. The intensity and duration of your individual grieving process is comparative to the loss. In other words, the more emotionally involved you are with the person or event, the deeper the emotional trauma and grief

Grief is overwhelming! Working with your hands, participating in physical activity, or just relaxing can help reduce the stress in your life. Be good to yourself during your grief journey. Grief exhausts even the strongest of bodies. Eat healthy. Get rest. Realize that your life, as you once knew it, will never be the norm again. You must design a new normal life. Take your grief and use it to make a positive impact on yourself and the world around you.

Eliminate negative thoughts. They will only add more grief and stress. Do not rush to heal your grief. The lessons you will learn along the way are invaluable. Many people have learned to reinvest in life and living following a traumatic event. Seek them out. They have walked the path of grief and will be your guide. They will offer understanding, a gentle hug, and strength.

In future Journeys Through Grief newsletters, we will explore the many facets of grief, the reasons that we grieve, our reactions to loss and trauma as well as healing our grief. I have no doubt that many of you will relate to the topics and unpleasant events featured. They can, and often do, have a very negative effect on your emotional health and physical well-being. However, positive coping skills and resources to help you resolve many of these issues will be discussed. Professionals from all walks of life will offer insight into various ways to approach grief in a healthy way. Adults and teens who have walked their personal paths of grief will share vital information to help you cope with your grief whether you are newly bereaved or have struggled for several years to find answers and end the pain of grief. I hope that you will use this and future Journeys Through Grief newsletter to help you find peace in your life. Please feel free to contact me with comments or suggestions for future articles.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney.

About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a mortician and bereavement educator. Since 1990, Peggy has developed various courses and taught countless seminars on coping with loss and grief for families and professionals. Her many program offerings include: Surviving the Holidays, Grief and the Chemically Dependent, When a Child Dies, and Grief Visits the Classroom.  Peggy offers two monthly support groups in Kerrville, TX: Comfort and Conversation for bereaved spouses/partners as well as Halo of Love for parents who have had a child die at any age. Likewise, Peggy continues to be a positive influence for emergency response and public safety professionals through her Grieving Behind the Badge program.

In addition to her years of dedication to the funeral profession, Peggy has served her community as an emergency medical technician and firefighter. She is currently a member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department and volunteers her time as a mentor with the Peterson Hospice Bridging the Gap program for grieving children. Peggy’s award-winning editorial contributions have been featured in both electronic and print media including the Kerrville Daily Times, the Los Angeles Firefighter newspaper, the Federations of Fire Chaplains, the CA Fire Chaplain Association, and the Emergency Ministries websites to name a few. In addition to this blog, Peggy also hosts the Grieving Behind the Badge blog, for emergency response professionals.

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