Articles: Recently Bereaved

Coping with Change

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In this world, nothing is sure but death and taxes”. 

Most of us know the reality of that statement. But perhaps we could consider one other certainty. CHANGE! Everything changes … times change, circumstances change, people change. Nothing stays the same for long.

Some changes can be positive. Yet even the positive changes produce some losses, and we dare not neglect the fact that every loss results in a deprivation of one kind or another. Perhaps you have had an experience where you wondered why you were feeling sad after experiencing what was supposed to be a happy event or situation. Whether change is positive or negative, there is always a dimension of loss to that change which produces some measure of grief.

But other changes are not so easy. The death of someone we care about, or that cared about us; the loss of a job; the loss of your home or of a treasured possession; the loss of health; independence or relationship. Loss is a fact of being alive in our world. No one is immune from it.

And when it touches your life, it is painful beyond words.

When my wife died, I felt like my whole world had changed. A death precipitates many changes in your life … the loss of a relationship, the loss of companionship; the loss of affection; the loss of someone to do things with or talk things over; for some it may mean the loss of financial security, their independence, or the loss of their role as part of a couple, a parent or as a caregiver.

For many, it is the loss of their hopes and dreams of “the way they thought life would be”; for others the loss of meaning, courage or faith, and a future that will not be the same as expected.

Every time we experience change, we grieve what we have lost as a result of that loss. You may experience an explosion of emotions with surprising intensity. A myriad of reactions such as confusion, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, anxiety, fear, impatience, restlessness, crying among others can assail us. Often we feel oversensitive, and everything seems to touch a raw nerve.

While this emotional reaction may be considered normal, it is fair to observe that it is a new definition of normality. It is important to acknowledge that grief is a normal response to what is always an unwelcome event; but it is just as important in the next breath to say that even though it is normal, that we should never minimize its complexity. Losing someone or something you care about is one of the most difficult experiences of life

Some people try to comfort us with cliché’s that suggest that grief is not so bad. They tell us that “this is a blessing in disguise” or “maybe it is for the best.” That makes this is a good thing, right? The trend in some areas is to focus on “acceptance”. Some use the concept of “good grief”, and even suggest from that grief is somehow a positive or good thing.

But let’s think again. Going to the dentist to have an aching tooth filled may be a good thing, but it is not something we are usually thrilled about or look forward to. It is necessary but not enjoyable. I believe we should think of “good grief” in the same way. To grieve is good, but we are rarely happy about it. Grief is usually an unwelcome experience. 

But perhaps you are thinking: How am I supposed to cope with something that has torn me apart?

Good question! The word “bereaved” comes from the root word “reave” which means “to be torn apart. The root word for “crisis”  means “to separate”, to be “ripped apart”. That’s what losing someone we loved feels like. And like Humpty Dumpty maybe some days we wonder if we will ever be able to put the pieces back together again. But grief is a natural albeit difficult part of life, helping us not to get “over” the experience but to get “through” it.

I think you begin to learn to cope when you are willing to take the following steps:

  • Coping means that you do not allow the past to totally destroy the present.
  • Coping means that despite going through a negative and even destructive experience, that you still have your heart and your soul, your self-respect and your life.
  • Coping with grief means you are learning to live with the sorrow without allowing it to plunge you into despair.
  • Coping with grief involves finding the confidence to go on. What many people do not realize is that there can be a fundamental loss of confidence that affects a grieving person. Things that normally they would have taken in stride become Herculean labors. Everything is a big deal. Going out can be a big deal, doing tasks that before you would have done with hardly a thought, now are a big deal. People say, C’mon, what’s wrong with you, you’ve done this before, pull yourself together. But they do not understand that the person’s usual coping mechanisms have been affected.

 

Every time we experience a loss, we confront a dragon. The only choice we have in such a situation is whether to slay the dragon or be vanquished by it. Grief can be a challenging experience, but not more powerful than your ability to work through the process. It is hard work, but as often happens, good things can come out of struggle. The more we work through the struggle, the closer we come to slaying the dragon.

Remember the smallest victory is a major triumph. As Victor Frankl put it, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

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