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With the Spring Comes Hope -- Finding Your Way through Grief

by Julie Fischer, MSE, Licensed Professional Counselor 

Spring is just around the corner; new life, new color, new hope. But for many who are experiencing a loss of some kind, the promise of spring is difficult to envision and even harder when it arrives. Because while many people feel light, joyful and renewed, those experiencing a loss may be deep in the trenches of grief, and find it difficult to take part in the celebration of new life, in the happiness and hope that usually accompany Spring. (Sadly enough, suicide rates are highest in the springtime, precisely for this reason).

Often times we associate grief only with the death of someone we know and love. But grief can be felt by anyone experiencing the loss of anything of real value about which she or he cares. Grief can be experienced any time there is a significant change or transition in someone's life, because change is most often accompanied by loss of some kind, or giving something up. Moving to a new house, losing one's job, ending a relationship, losing one's health, loss of a pet, loss of a dream, as well as loss of self-control, loss of trust, or loss of freedom. Even the usually celebratory event of welcoming a baby into a family involves some losses and therefore some grief. The old way of being together as a couple or as a family must be given up. Small daily habits must be changed -- sleep patterns, meal times and weekend activities all may need to be altered to help fold this new life into the family.

Whatever changes, transitions or losses are the cause of your grief; know that grief is not a single event or occurrence, but rather a process. Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance are well-known stages of grief that a person may go through. Despite the linear sequence of the steps as presented here, know that each person moves through her or his own process in her or his own way and according to her or his own timeline, and that each person may cycle through these steps many times for years to come.

Normal grief reactions can vary across a broad spectrum depending on the individual and her or his circumstances. Some of the more common reactions to loss are listed below, broken down into emotional, physical, mental and behavioral reactions.

Emotionally -- Some feelings that may occur include:
Sadness Anger Guilt
Anxiety Loneliness Fatigue
Helplessness Shock Yearning
Relief Numbness Depression
Physically -- Some sensations that may be experienced include:
Hollowness in stomach Tightness in chest, throat
Sense of Depersonalization (nothing seems real)
Lack of energy
Mentally -- Some thoughts/cognitions may include:
Disbelief Confusion Preoccupation
Hallucinations Sense of presence Doubting, questioning

(of the deceased)
Behaviorally -- Some noticeable changes in behavior may include:
Sleep disturbances Appetite disturbances
Social withdrawal Dreams of the deceased
Searching/calling out Absent-minded behavior
Crying Avoiding reminders of the deceased

Know that all of these thoughts, feelings and behaviors are a normal part of the grief process. Grieving is a normal process, even though it hurts.

What can you do to get through this process? Some coping mechanisms to help you move through the grief include:

  • Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted family members and friends. Having and using your support system is critical.
  • Do some journaling or perform a ceremony or ritual to call forth any untapped feelings.
  • Take care of yourself. Be gentle with your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self.
  • If you feel stuck, unable to express your emotions, or find yourself using unhealthy coping mechanisms (over-eating, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.), contact a professional counselor.

So, when should you be "over" all the hurt and pain? First remember it's a process, so be gentle with yourself and don't rush yourself (or anyone else). Second, know that a person never completely recovers – an emptiness may remain for years to come, and certain emotional insecurities and issues may remain. Sadness may come back, washing over you in waves on special days or in certain circumstances. But take heart – there will come a time when you feel like the worst is over, like some healing has occurred and you are ready to move forward with your life ... spring is not far off, and with the spring comes hope.

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