Loss, both big and small, is a part of life. In fact, we’re guaranteed to experience loss and grief at some point or another. While this difficult truth can be challenging to recognize, it ultimately lessens the discomfort when going through loss. When this reality of life is acknowledged, accepted, and approached with intention, grief can function as a gift, carrying with it a significant opportunity for growth. Grief as a Certainty in Life Grief and loss are two main aspects of our experiences as humans. No matter your age, gender, and socioeconomic status, you are bound to experience loss in some form in your lifetime. Despite the pain that accompanies grief, a shift in perspective can change our relationship with this common human experience. In The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts attests, “Because life is likewise a flowing process, change and death are its necessary parts. To work for their exclusion is to work against life.” With this frame of mind, the reality of loss is interwoven into the beauty of life itself. Undoubtedly, one cannot love without losing, achieve without failing, or grow without experiencing pain. In denying the circle of grief and growth, change and loss ultimately become unbearable. It is natural to cling to the childlike security that comes from avoiding the reality that all humans experience loss. However, if we avoid this inherent truth, we’re unable to experience the growth that comes from fully experiencing grief. Try for a moment to accept that grief is a part of life. Does an emotion come to you? What do you experience in your body? Becoming aware of your internal reactions to grief is an important step to learning how to go, and grow, through grief. The Emotional Tapestry of Grief Grief involves loss, change, and ultimately growth. As a natural reaction to significant loss of any kind, grief is an umbrella that encompasses a tapestry of emotions. When losing a loved one, adjusting to a big life change, or acknowledging trauma, it is normal to become overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, loneliness, and hopelessness. Wrestling with grief or loss is a very personal process. Everyone navigates this experience differently, at their own pace and in their own way. It’s important not to rush the grieving process, taking careful note of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations during each step of the process. In Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler outlines five stages of grief:
- Denial functions as a survival mechanism, helping to pace the heavy feelings of grief. This initial grace period is an acknowledgment that we can only handle so much heartache.
- Anger functions as an anchor, providing a structure for the deeper emotions that lie within. It is a necessary step in the healing process and opens the door to acceptance.
- Bargaining is the process of exploring the “what ifs.” What if you had done something differently? What if you had more time? These deep questions offer a sense of control in times of insecurity and instability.
- Depression is a natural experience when moving through change and loss. As the mind and body begin to return to the present, many people experience apathy, hopelessness, and the urge to numb heavy emotions.
- Acceptance is finding freedom from pain, yet it doesn’t mean the grief is no longer present. Alternatively, it might mean accepting a new normal, honoring emotions, or acknowledging that loss is a part of life.