Multiple loss experiences pervade every life. They demand an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy in order to cope with the massive changes imposed. Yet, there are many well-known strategies to deal with the pain of loss ranging from expressing emotion and searching for meaning to keeping a journal and joining a support group.
However, there are three skills you can develop which are not commonly talked about in books on grief that can make a major difference in a positive outcome for your grief work. Try them as you deal with your adjustment period regardless of the type of loss you are mourning.
1. Become an expert at redirecting the focus of your attention. Dwelling on the pain of what you have lost is normal, but commonly leads to excessive suffering. The more attention you give it the bigger it grows, so there is no reason why you can’t take a break from your mourning and practice the art of refocusing. This is not hard to do. It takes patience and persistence.
You can use a symbol like a trinket, a coin, or a photo of a beautiful scene, as a cue to check where your attention is focused. Or, develop a word or phrase that is the signal to immediately switch your attention elsewhere when the thoughts become too painful. There is nothing wrong in looking for a quick distraction that will grab all of your attention and give you a temporary release from the pain.
This diversion is not only healthy; it will give you a sense of greater control of your inner life. You can use it for any negative or painful thoughts you wish to dispatch. Some people yell out “Stop” or “Stop it” and follow it with moving into another room or doing something else to change the scene. Again, it is important for your health to divert painful thoughts.
2. Systematically draw on moments in the past when you felt loved. One of the most important images you can develop and periodically recall from your memory bank is a time or times you felt loved. Love is the greatest healer of all.
Think of scenes from the past when love was freely given and received and start using them to balance the sadness and negativity associated with your loss. This is another well-accepted therapeutic diversion. Take time every day to focus on those beautiful images. Also, be sure to focus on feelings, what was said, even what you may have learned, and where you were at the time.
One of those memories would be ideal to focus on when you wish to redirect your attention when you are overwhelmed. Thoughts are extremely powerful and loving thoughts will give you much needed comfort.
3. Learn to gently educate your support system. Although it is a difficult time to have to do it, telling your caregivers what you need and when you need it, can result in great dividends. Many who want to help often are not sure what to do. In a gentle manner, tell them if you need quiet time, turn the television down or off, or if you need to be alone at certain times. Also, tell them not to be afraid of your crying so much or having to repeat parts of the story of your loss.
Of special importance is to let them know, after months go by, and you have not followed there agenda for healing, that you need more time. This is when your closest friends will need to know that you still need to talk, and that they can be so helpful if they will just be there and listen–and not tell you what you should be doing. Again, make it clear you are so grateful for what they have done, but there is no set time limit on mourning, you do not need to go to a counselor, and each person’s grief is one-of-a kind. Deep within you know what you need better than anyone else.
In summary, you possess the inherent ability to cope with any loss that occurs in your life. Welcome the care giving of friends and relatives. We all need support from the right people at the right time. And, use the above three coping strategies to help you take primary responsibility for reconciling your loss and reinvesting in life.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com