Good Grief: Going and Growing Through Loss
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 to 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.
Bringing attention and compassion to parts of ourselves in each stage can be a supportive process with great potential for self-knowledge and spiritual growth. Whether you’re navigating the death of a loved one, processing the impact of a global pandemic, or even experiencing an exciting move to a new town, grief presents an opportunity to more deeply appreciate the beauty and complexity of life.
Growing Through Grief
Going through grief is one of the most difficult and powerful ways there is to grow, change, and even transform. However, no matter what your perspective is on grief, loss is not easy and everyone needs support. Grief is a complicated process. It's very normal to feel like you don't know how to process your feelings.
Here are some tips for how you can help yourself grow through grief:
1. Take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise. If possible, get enough sleep every night. Try to spend time with friends who make you feel happy and loved— don't isolate yourself because you think no one understands what you're going through
2. Write in a journal or create art about your emotions. This is a good way to express your feelings without having to put them into words (which can be too much at times).
3. Talk about your feelings with someone close to you. They might be able to offer insight based on their own experience—but even if they don't have any advice, just talking about what happened can help you feel less alone in your grief.
4. Reach out for professional help if things get too overwhelming for you. There are many fine Grief Therapists who can help you navigate this stage, you may even find one here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/grief
When we embrace the full range of emotions that come with loss—including anger, sadness, despair, and grief—we can begin to find meaning in what’s happened. We can learn from our pain and transform it into something positive for ourselves and others. Instead of avoiding or denying our feelings about loss, we can learn how to tolerate them and use them as fuel for discovery and meaning.
The Grief Recovery Handbook, James and Friedman, 2009
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler, 2019
The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts, 1951