Maryland Bar Center
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Direct Line: 443-703-3041
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC
Lawyers Assistance Program Counselor
Direct Line: 443-703-3042
Honorable William G. Simmons
Lawyer Assistance Committee Chair
Grief: How to Cope with Loss
BY: Carol P. Waldhauser
When Jean was an older law student; she did not complete her legal education and go on to practice law as planned. Ironically, as Jean was about to reach her goals, she derailed. Within a two year period, Jean experienced numerous losses, i.e.: the diagnosis and subsequent death of her future law partner; the emotional dealings with care-giving to both her mother and her best friend; the loss of her job; the loss of her job; empty ness syndrome; the loss of financial security, etc. Jean said that she "cried and cried" with each of these losses. Furthermore, Jean soon used negative coping skills to deal with these losses.
Just think about the losses that you have experienced in the past, as well as those that you are currently going through. Like Jean, they might include, but are not be limited to: death of a loved one; loss of a pet; empty nest; divorce; loss of a job; loss of your professional license, retirement, illness and even moving from one house to another. No matter what person, place or thing, a loss usually means pain. Generally as human beings, this pain from loss – any loss – results in grief. Accordingly, there are different degrees of loss and pain, however, the stages of grieving are often similar.
What is Grief?
Grief is the way we feel when we lose a person, place or thing. It involves mixed emotions: sorrow, anger, shock, fear, etc. Grief is not a disease. Rather, grief is a process - the process of dealing with the emotions that are a direct result of experiencing a loss.
Unfortunately, we cannot know how a particular loss is going to feel until that loss actually occurs. One of our first reactions is to shut down. In other words, we react to our loss with shock, numbness and disbelief. This reaction cushions us from overwhelming feelings during the first hours or even weeks. How long it takes an individual to come out of his/her numbness to the loss depends on the individual circumstances surrounding each loss.
At some point, however, the individual realizes that the loss is real. As the numbness wears off, he/she begins to realize what the loss is going to mean. This explains why many individuals feel worse after a few months have gone by. The reality of this loss starts to sink in. Generally, the most difficult grieving starts here because the support we received immediately after the loss has tapered off.
Still, we must allow ourselves to experience the pain of our loss in all of its forms. There are no shortcuts through the pain. We can "stuff down" feelings and delay grieving, but the grief will not diminish until we travel through it by experiencing it fully.
What are some common emotions and behaviors that make up the pain of grief?
cannot sleep/over sleep
Hard to think straight
Dealing with these emotions, whether your loss is that of a loved one, a marriage, a pet, a job, or even a license, is intense and complex. Furthermore, this journey cannot be traveled overnight. To travel successfully through our emotions (grief), we need to take an active role in our own healing processes. Accordingly, it helps to understand how human beings respond to loss and whether our feelings and reactions are normal.
What are the stages of grief?
Stage 1 is shock. In other words, the individual normally cannot believe that he/she has incurred the loss. During this stage the individual usually experiences the following signs: numbness, disbelief, emptiness, disconnect, lack of stamina and isolation.
Stage 2 is hurt. Generally, this stage the individual actually feels the hurt. Subsequently, the hurt often develops into pain and emotional turmoil. More specifically, the individual experiences one or more of the following: anger, bitterness, guilt, sadness, depression, loneliness, panic, and/or hopelessness.
Stage 3 is often referred to as the "Stuck" stage. In other words, an individual may believe that nothing is worthwhile. Usually during this stage, the following behavior, both emotional and physical, is observed. The individual may become: further isolated, fearful, insecure, disorganized, lethargic, blue, exhausted and dispirited.
Stage 4 is acceptance and affirmation. Very slowly change has taken place and a new life is not only accepted; but also affirmed. Put simply, the individual is ready to go on with life.
What is the correct way to cope with the emotions of loss (grief)?
First and foremost, there is no right or wrong way - only your unique way. Similarly, there are differences about grieving. Men and women may grieve differently. Men tend to hold feelings inside; feel responsible and keep busy. While on the other hand, women tend to show their emotions; may have flashbacks of the loss; and usually seek support from others. Whatever gender or difference, including cultural, your way of coping with the emotions resulting from the loss may be positive or negative.
Remember, Jean from our story? Initially, Jean chose the latter way to deal with her losses. In other words, Jean used wine to take away the pain she felt. It worked at first, however, she did not consider that she was high-risk for the potential for abuse and/or dependence. Clearly a more positive way would have been to allow herself to experience the pain of her losses - in all of its forms.
Because grieving is like a roller coaster – one day you may feel up, the next down, here are some positive ways to cope with a loss:
- Allow yourself time to grieve
- Accept that you will have bad days and good days
- Don't let others tell you how you should fee; it is different for everyone
- Use a support system. Let family and friends help you. Tell them what you need – it is ok
- Do positive things that bring you comfort
- Move a muscle; change a mood – walk
- Let your feelings out: talk, cry, pray, write
- Try no to get caught up in thinking
- Don't play the "if only" or "I wish I had" game instead
- Grow in a positive direction
- Seek professional counseling
- Eat plenty of good food
- Limit use of alcohol, caffeine and sugar
- Get enough of rest
- See your doctor
Some other helpful Tips on coping with loss:
- Give yourself time before making important decisions
- You may want to wait before moving or selling a house until you are sure what is best for you
- Get involved with a charity or organization
- Try a new hobby or take a class
- Join a support group or locate a chat group on the internet
- Read books on loss and coping, sometimes it helps to know you are not alone
Remember, in life - loss is inevitable. It is up to us to use positive coping skills to deal with the change that arises from a loss. Going through the above stages and using most of the above tools allow hope to break through the dark clouds. Slowly new life incorporates both the loss and the change and we have the stamina to go on. For more information about coping with loss or with reference to any other work/life topic call the MSBA's Lawyer Assistance Program: (410) 685-7878 Ex. 3041 or 1-800-492-1964 Ex. 3041.