Grief and Loss – A Chicago Therapist Perspective
By: Alan Tsang, MA, LPC, NCC
The loss of something in your life can be an all-encompassing experience to face because it is something that can happen when we least expect it (Fileva, 2021). Grieving can take us down many emotional avenues and experiences. This is not just a metaphorical statement. Experiencing the loss of something in your life can bring about a difficult and heavy compound of feelings like guilt, remorse, anger, sadness; the list goes on.
Even if the loss was not by surprise, the initial emotions can still be emotionally draining. What comes after can also be an experience that, while might be difficult to face, can be numbing (Whalley & Kaur, 2020), emotionally heavy, and important.
Grief is something that we all will experience at some point in our lives (DeWoskin, 2016). We need to grieve in order to help us heal from the sadness that comes with the loss of someone we care for; the hard fact that this special someone now lives in our memories. It puts the broken part of us together after that loss has occurred (Fileva, 2021).
Grieving can be defined in various ways depending on the situation. The primary thought associated with grieving would be the passing of a loved one. It can, for example, also focus on the loss of a relationship or the transition from one life stage to another (Casabianca, 2021). For the purposes of this article, we will focus on grieving defined by the loss of a loved one.
If one were to also take into consideration the experiences we have faced in the past year, it is that grief and mourning are more powerful than we realize. That on top of our already existing stressors (Stanaway, 2020), it would be difficult to imagine what proper grieving is. That is to say, there may not be a proper method of grieving.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has previously identified the familiar 5 stages of grief and formulated a model that focused on the main reactions to grieving (Casabianca, 2021). As some colleagues have suggested, grieving has no linear path to get to acceptance (Harms, 2016; Whalley & Kaur, 2020). Rather, it is something that needs to take its time and its process is entirely dependent on the situation whether it is intense in one moment or relatively good (Casabianca, 2021; DeWoskin, 2016; Harms, 2016). Many clients who are having difficulties with mourning often ask how to get to acceptance. This writing will help clarify what exactly this particular stage of grieving is, and how it can be achieved.
The hard response to those who might be asking how to get to acceptance is that it very much depends. This is very much valid depending on the circumstances and impact of the loss. As all-encompassing as grieving is (Fileva, 2021), it would be unfair to compare one’s speed of mourning to another’s gradual pace because everyone grieves differently. The pace that we grieve would also be dependent on how strongly connected we are to who we’ve lost because of one’s instinct to adapt to a new environment and situation (Stanaway, 2020). Proposing that we should be acting or feeling a particular way has been suggested to add more weight to the pain we carry with grief (Whalley & Kaur, 2020). Moreover, it would also disregard the feelings that we as human beings expereince in order to grieve naturally.
Whalley and Kaur (2020) provided a glimpse into the emotional reactions and thought content that come with grieving. They suggested that grief can come in waves of varying intensity towards the beginning of the process (Whalley & Kaur, 2020) and can lead us to feel loss of control in our lives (Fileva, 2021). Suggesting then that the acceptance stage is something to achieve as quickly as possible would also be unfair towards your emotions and the memories we share of our loved ones. Acknowledging that it is okay to feel angered or triggered because of specific places or anniversaries (Harms, 2016) would allow us to remember the importance of that significant other person.
Acceptance is understandably the stage that many people would want to get to. As the placement of acceptance implies from Kubler-Ross’s model, because it is the last piece of grieving it would be valid to believe that because we’ve reached acceptance, grieving is done.
According to Stanaway (2020), acceptance in the grieving process may be more than pushing past the distress and trauma. Rather, acceptance is understanding the reality of the situation without judgment (Stanaway, 2020). Depending on the circumstance, it would also be fair to suggest that acceptance is about being mindful of how these experiences: the trauma, the sadness, the emotional pain have led to turmoil; and how it can be redirected positively.
Considering all that goes into grieving, getting to acceptance may be harder than imagined. Think about the emotions, the relationship, and the interactions you would have during the grieving process that would either take you forward, backward, or keep you at a standstill while you are continuing to live your life. Taking the time to reframe the sadness and missing the individual to an experience of cherishing and remembrance can be more helpful. How one chooses to acknowledge one’s loss can also impact what acceptance looks like (Casabianca, 2021).
Even when acceptance is reached, there can be instances of going back to a different stage of grief. Having reached acceptance does not mean that grieving is done. Sadness continues to be important in remembering a loss; as much as readjusting to the new reality where the loss now lives in memories.
A reminder to the reader that there is no right or wrong way to grieve (Harms, 2016). It would be unfair to treat the emotions and memories that come up during your grieving time as a step by step process. Rather, this might be beneficial to think of as an encouragement through your difficult time; that it is valid to sit with your sadness, embrace the joy, and be reminded that there is happiness in remembrance of a loved one.
If you having difficult thoughts about your grieving experiences, please feel free to reach out to us. Our new client line is 773.528.1777. We can also be reached through our online contact form.
Casabianca, S. S. (2021). Mourning and the 5 stages of grief. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief
DeWoskin, A. (2016). Loss and the stages of grief when someone we love dies. 2nd Story Counseling. https://www.mychicagotherapist.com/loss-and-the-stages-of-grief-when-someone-we-love-dies/
Fileva, I. (2021). Behind the veil of grief. Powerlessness, denial, and the missing object of love. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-philosophers-diaries/202104/grief-and-finality
Harms, G. (2016). Grief: Thoughts on coping from a Lakeview therapist in Chicago. 2nd Story Counseling. https://www.mychicagotherapist.com/grief-thoughts-coping-lakeview-therapist-chicago/
Stanaway, C. (2020). The stages of grief: Accepting the unacceptable. University of Washington. https://www.washington.edu/counseling/2020/06/08/the-stages-of-grief-accepting-the-unacceptable/
Whalley, M. & Kaur, H. (2020). Grief, loss, and bereavement. Psychology Tools. https://www.psychologytools.com/self-help/grief-loss-and-bereavement/