Grief: Empowerment Through Self-Care and Rituals

Loss is a natural part of life that we each will experience in one form or another throughout our lifetime.   The end of a significant relationship, the loss of a job, a change in social status, or the death of a loved one a few examples of how grief may enter our lives.  Loss can be sudden and unexpected or prolonged and anticipated however the manner in which it manifests and affects each one of us cannot be predicted.  Although research has indicated that grief tends to follow 5 primary stages that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kubler-Ross, 1969), how grief exists from person to person is vastly differently from duration and intensity and the degree to which it affects an individual’s level of day-to-day functioning. 

The reason that grief is idiosyncratic is the result of specific factors related to each of our unique tendencies and personalities, degree of self-care before and after a loss, level of external and internal stressors prior to a loss, pre-existing mental health or medical conditions, social connections, and degree of resiliency.  The presence and ability to be resilient in the face of hardship or adversity is a primary determinant of whether an individual will cope effectively while grieving, despite the aforementioned factors that exist prior to a loss. 

One of the common aspects of grief is the sense of feeling like our world is out of our control because the familiarity we once knew before a loss may no longer exist.  When we feel out of control, we feel helpless which has the power to negatively infiltrate our thoughts and feelings, making it difficult to function.  In order to counteract our feelings of helplessness associated with grief, we can direct our focus and attention to aspects of our lives that we do have control over.  Here are two examples of how we can take control of our lives after loss:

Self-care, or the ability to purposefully engage in daily activities that nurture our physical, mental, and emotional selves, is one manner in which individuals can build resiliency after a loss.  Self-care begins with identifying and addressing our basic needs by intentionally engaging in healthy eating habits, sleep hygiene, physical exercise, and social engagements.  Creating and maintaining a routine to follow can be effective an effective strategy for developing healthy self-care habits as well as provide us with a sense of structure and accountability. 

Rituals are actions or activities that we engage in with the purpose of promoting a sense of comfort and familiarity during times of chaos and stress. Rituals can be done either publicly or in private and provides meaning and perspective in powerful ways.  Examples of public rituals involve funerals, obituaries, and memorials.  Private rituals may involve prayer, talking to the deceased out loud or in our heads, or maintaining activities and routines that were done prior to a loss.  For example, widows or widowers may continue to go to places that were a significant part of his/her life with a spouse prior to a loss. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT