There’s a beautiful poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye in 1932. Many people heard this poem for the first time about twenty years ago, when the father of a dead soldier read it aloud on the BBC, having found it in his son’s personal items in an envelope labeled, “To All My Loved Ones.” Here are the words:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Grief is Natural
In the course of our lives, loss is inevitable. Loss may be profound, such as the death of a loved one, or it may be passing, such as forgetting the name of a friend in an old photograph. We all experience losing something or someone at some point. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. You may experience grief briefly or for an extended period of time.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced in 1969 what became known as the “five stages of grief,” (including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness. Not everyone experiences all of these stages. The phases don’t necessarily happen in sequence. In her last book before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross said: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Yet familiarity with these stages of grief may help you on your journey to recovery. As you are grieving, you may ask yourself, “how can this important part of my life be gone?” You will need to find ways to move on without this person in your life.
Strategies for Dealing with Loss
Here is a list of strategies that can help during the grieving process.
- Accept your feelings: grief can bring up all kinds of unexpected emotions. You may feel angry, hurt, guilty, sad, or any number of other emotions. Please know that this is totally normal. Understanding that your life has been changed in some way that is beyond your control is inherently challenging. Acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel these unpleasant emotions can help you move through the grieving process. There is no normal timetable for grieving.
- Reach out: You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who is grieving the same loss or someone who has experienced a similar loss. Talking to your friends and family members can also be a source of comfort. If you are a religious person, it could be helpful to reach out to someone in your faith. Additionally, you may want to speak with a counselor, especially one who specializes in grief counseling.
- Remember your loved one: Try to remember all of the good times you had with your loved one. You may want to frame a picture of him or her, or just take a few minutes each day to recall a fond memory. Keeping a journal can help you through this process. One that has been meaningful personally is “Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance,” by Kathy Eldon and Amy Eldon Turteltaub. Having a special way of recording your feelings and thoughts can be healing.
- Take care of yourself: Grief can make us forget to attend to our physical needs as well as our mental needs. Make sure that you don’t neglect the things you would normally do to keep your body feeling great, like eating well and exercising.
The Loss of a Colleague
Most of the time, when we talk about loss and grief, it is in the context of the death of a family member or friend. It is important to remember, however, that the loss of someone you know in a professional context can also be extremely challenging. Those we know through a professional context can become friends, and even if the relationship is strictly professional, the loss of anyone who played a role in your life can cause feelings of grief. This is especially true if the loss was very sudden.
Grief and Pre-Existing Mental Illness
While dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult for anyone, it can be especially hard on those with mental health conditions. Grief is distinct from clinical depression; however, grief can trigger a worsening or re-emergence of symptoms. It can also cause feelings of grief about a past loss to resurface. This is especially common if you have lost someone very close to you in the past, or if you did not fully work through your feelings of grief about the past loss. If you have a mental illness, and you experience a loss, it is important to keep in mind that the grieving process may be more difficult for you to navigate on your own. If you find yourself struggling to handle your feelings, or if you think grief may be worsening your pre-existing mental health conditions, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. You may want to seek counseling or a support group.
Please know that the Mental Health Association in Greensboro offers peer-based supportive services ranging from classes to support groups. We are here for you.