The Journey Through Grief

Part One

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This is "Part One" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to "Part Two".

Defining and Acknowledging Loss


Loss is, and always will be a part of life. No sooner do we start to recover from a death or some other form of significant loss, than we are thrust back into the cycle again by some other event of loss. Grief is a constant companion. Sometimes it is a very unwanted one, but nevertheless it is continually there by necessity for our own good. It can layer its effect on our lives and become very complicated. That is why developing better care giving skills is crucial for helping others who cannot seem to make progress in the grief processes that accompany their loss.

Let’s look at a definitive description of "loss". Loss is when something we had, something we experienced, or something we desired or expected is no longer going to be apart of our lives. Loss is a definable point of separation from something or someone. We often associate loss exclusively with death. But in reality, the death of someone who shares life close to us is only a very small portion of the actual loss we experience in our lifetimes. We often associate these personally experienced deaths as monumental losses because of the mystique and the emotional and spiritual impact packaged with such a death. But the whole experience of loss is much larger than just that of experiencing a death of someone close to us. This does not belittle or make the experience of such a death an insignificant thing, because the death of a loved one is often times a major "mile marker" in our personal history. That type of pain grips us even tighter because of the inability to no longer express our selves to the one who has died or to share the same common experiences with them anymore.

As a child we experience many forms of loss that impact the formative years of our psychology. These formative years are often considered to be approximately between the ages of 3 and 10. Loss may be first experienced in a friend that refuses to play with us anymore because of a particular incident that happened at school. It may also be experienced as a neighbor that moves away to another state. Sometimes the trauma of the death of a pet might be a point that we experience our first notable value of loss of life. Or, it might even be something as simple as the continuous misplacement of our favorite toy.

Loss is usually experienced as a pain or an anguish that you either learn not to talk about, or you make a large scene about as a child. Sometimes, when no one seems to help you with those little losses when you are younger, the losses begin to accumulate as psychological “baggage” as you grow into adolescence. Many parents cannot deal with the losses in their own life, so they are basically ineffective at helping their own children deal with loss, grief or even the close experience of a death. Many times parents or other adults that the child respects will use phrases like "We just have to go on with life now" or "You need to grow up and act responsibly about what has happened". Those statements are not necessarily wrong in content, but they are not complete in the care giving context of the situation of loss and grief for a child. These kinds of statements inhibit the child’s ability to express their pain and grieve over the loss which has occurred. It is virtually impossible for a child cannot grow up instantly in their emotional expressions and mental comprehensions when a loss occurs.  

Many times a child will develop coping skills for their losses based on watching a parent or older adult respond in such situations. Where as an adolescent or teenager may observe a friend or a peer more often than their parents. This is especially common in the larger amount of the population that responds to any given situation in a reactionary manner rather than in an initiating way. This reactionary response is especially notable when observing the reactions of junior high school students and teenagers interacting with their peers about their losses. Often a child’s accumulative environment will also mold and shape the way a child begins to understand and deal with loss. An accumulative environment is composed of several influences in a child’s life such as their home dynamics, their religious beliefs and the social environment of church, synagogue or mosque. The school and educational system the child encounters can be a large influence on the child and contribute to the accumulative environment also.

By the time a child enters the adolescent stage, or even the adult stage of life he or she may be carrying a tremendous amount of unresolved grief and loss issues and be somewhat oblivious to it.. They may be things as simple as a missed opportunity for education, sports or travel. Or, it may include the “break up” of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or something as monumental as the death of a parent or sibling.

Because grief is the process by which we work through the losses in our lives, it is obviously important to know that many people dealing with major issues that require the support and care of outside help have additional underlying unresolved issues of loss and grief also.

Most of the people that seek counsel from a professional caregiver have either directly experienced a loss because of a crisis or a trauma of some form or another, or they are directly connected to someone who has had such experiences, and thus are concerned about the one who has experienced the loss, or crisis or trauma. They may not perceive the problem as a grief and loss issue, but when the truth is exposed through proper inquiry and diagnosis, it often times comes down to an issue of loss connected to an inadequate grieving process. Some experts claim that upwards to 95% of all counseling scenarios find their core problem in the experience of a loss, and thus it becomes a grief processing issue in the counseling environment.

Many people suffer from what is often called a "complicated grief syndrome" (CGS). This means that there are many losses being suffered at one time and grief is being experienced by one person in many different stages. In these situations it is best to try to help them identify what the foundational loss or losses are before trying to deal with the total spectrum of the complexity of their grief. This may take time for them to identify or even acknowledge. But once they recognize or admit to what one or some of the core loss and/or grief issues are, the process of working through the grief can begin with greater ease and expectancy.

Many times a couple may seek out counseling for their failing marriage. Once the obvious symptoms related to grief and loss are illuminated, it is amazing how many times the symptomatic problems and issues can be resolved to one degree or another. In marital counseling we can often trace the grief back the loss of a parent, a child or other close relative or friend. In some severe cases the spouse may be grieving over the inability to find peace or resolution in issues of lost childhood experiences taken from them because of mental or sexual abuse. In other cases spousal marital symptoms that have caused pain in the marriage are due to the process of “self-medication” which will be discussed later in this section.

Parents will often bring an angry or violent teen in for counseling. Quite often the outward signs of inappropriate behavior have a core issue in their inability to work through grief or loss issues. Again, it might be the loss of a boyfriend, girlfriend, job or even the death of a classmate, sibling or even a grandparent. When these grief and loss issues are properly identified and acknowledged by the teen, they can often be successfully addressed and treated through cognitive and even spiritual therapy. Generally the teen’s behavior is progressively modified and usually noticeably more tolerable as time goes on.

Adults with complex loss and grief issues will often times attempt to sue others in a court of law who have offended them. The root of this is often found in the hope of bringing some relief to the pain they are experiencing due to the loss (or losses) they have suffered. Many times they will even tell the judge or their attorney that it is not about the money as much as it is about the principal of what has been done to them. They are actually looking to fill that psychological or spiritual void that has been created more so than the actual void of the loss itself. This is because they either have not learned how to properly work through their grief, or else the actual loss has not been defined as a reality in their life. In some cases they may even think that money can fill that void. However, it almost always comes down to the fact that they are only looking for a psychological satisfaction to the complex array of emotions and feelings surrounding the loss they have encountered.

Sometimes the completion of a successful lawsuit can become a psychological addiction which may lead them into many other needless legal actions against the smallest of offenders. This type of behavior becomes a format of "self-medication" against the pain of each loss they suffer. The size or impact of the loss sometimes becomes totally irrelevant to the need of "medicating" their existence from the potential or actual pain. Thus, this behavior rooted in grief and loss becomes addictive until properly identified and treated.


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