Rebuilding Your Life After Loss
Grief can be a profound and overwhelming experience. If you come from a family that never talked much about death, grieving can feel confusing and even frightening. It’s common to find yourself with unanticipated questions about how your life can go on.
If you have lost someone close to you, you might:
- Cry frequently
- Feel flat or numb, or physically exhausted
- Laugh at inappropriate times
- Have bouts of anger that seem to come from nowhere
- Be anxious, worried, or afraid
- Have trouble sleeping
- Feel unexpectedly relieved or guilty
I work with people experiencing loss to move through the grief and to come to terms with what has happened, while developing a sense of what comes next.
This is what grief can look like.
People often come to me after a devastating loss and ask, “Is there something wrong with me now?” The way grief presents itself can seem confusing and scary if you’ve never felt this way before. So let me tell you that normal responses to a major loss can include:
- Shock, as if you’ve lost all connection to the world, and nothing seems real
- Feeling like the loss couldn’t actually have happened
- Extraordinarily anger, either about the loss or about events entirely unrelated
- Fixating on “What If” or “If Only” scenarios that might have prevented the loss
- Pervasive sadness, inability to enjoy good parts of life, or having very few emotions at all
- Having temporary moments of, “This has really happened. They’re gone. This is my life now.”
No two people experience grief in exactly the same way, but if you’re having some of these responses, it’s okay: these are entirely normal, and sometimes painful, ways that we process a devastating loss.
How Grief Counseling Helps
We’re often not very good at talking about grief and loss. Friends and family members can become uncomfortable about the topic, or have their own emotional processes that get in the way of being there for you. I’m here to help you through the whole process of managing a profound loss and to help you find the direction you now want your life to take.
You might find it helpful to:
- talk about the loss with someone who’s here strictly for you
- have a place to go through all the strong feelings of grief without any fear of judgment or consequences
- have a place to remember
- build practical, concrete strategies for how to navigate your life while you’re grieving
- have someone who can help you reconstruct meaning — how your life’s priorities and values might be different now
Questions and Concerns
What’s the goal of grief counseling? To make the bad feelings end? That doesn’t seem possible.
No. We’re not trying to make it so that you don’t feel the loss. That’s real. We want to help you manage your life as best you can at the times when it’s most painful, and help you make a plan for how to live your life most meaningfully from this time forward.
You’ve never met the person I lost. How can you understand what this is like for me?
You’re right. I haven’t met them — and even if I had, I wouldn’t have had the same relationship as you had with them. Part of our work together will be about me learning about the person you lost, which gives you the opportunity to explore what they meant to you.
These experiences will probably fluctuate over time. Sometimes you’ll feel angry, sometimes excessively sad, sometimes like you could or should have been able to prevent the loss, occasionally ready to accept this that has happened, and then maybe back to anger, and so on.
Feeling this way after a major loss doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It means that you’re grieving.
I want to tell you something that is maybe the hardest point for people in deep grief to believe:
The way you’re feeling right now will not last forever. It will take longer than you want it to, but over time, the acceptance phases will get stronger, and the others will reduce.
What Comes Next?
People often talk about processing grief with phrases like “You’ll get over it in time” or “You’ll get through this.” While well-intentioned, I think that language suggests that when we “finish” the grieving process, we’re back to who we were before the loss. I don’t think it works that way.
I think grief changes us. Part of the experience of profound grief is that you will be different. This loss will change you. But it doesn’t have to destroy you. I’ll work with you in this transition to find the best of yourself through this intensely painful experience. We’ll team up to help you figure out what’s now most important to you in life.
I’m having complicated feelings about the person I lost, and they’re not always positive. Is that OK?
That is absolutely OK. Any one person in our lives is still a person — with good parts and bad parts, like all of us. Society often tells us that we should only think well of people who are gone. But I think it’s important in grief to face and accept all the different elements of the person who is gone. That’s how we face and come to terms with our own complicated feelings about someone we lost.
Different Kinds of Loss
The grief process can apply to many different kinds of loss in addition to the death of someone important to us. People often experience grief over the loss of:
- a job
- a relationship
- physical health
- cognitive decline of a loved one
- the end of a particular phase of life
Having a skilled counselor can help you with the same challenge: how to manage the loss and find new meaning in your life.