Transforming Grief

We’ve all experienced loss and grief, especially during the pandemic. Navigating all of this on our own can be challenging. Social worker and bereavement coordinator, Shannon Radel helps us understand loss and grief and how we can manage these emotions.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the grief support groups’ in-person meetings to be canceled, so Shannon is delivering thought-provoking, supportive messages online through a podcast series:
Transforming Your Grief. Here is an excerpt from episode #1:

Question: What would you tell our listeners about understanding grief and coping with the feelings related to loss?
Shannon Radel: We all experience loss at every stage of our life. Learning how to cope in a healthy way is the most beneficial thing that we can do.
We suppress our feelings and oftentimes continue to live as if nothing has happened. If we ignore our feelings they have a way of surfacing, often when we least expect it and often in a far more distressing form.

Question: Are there different types of loss?
Shannon Radel: Yes. When talking about loss, most of us think that
it is usually related to death. However, loss is a concept that starts and continues throughout our entire life. The definition of loss is quite lengthy, but it’s essentially the real or perceived deprivation of something that we once deemed meaningful.

In this past year many of us have struggled through many losses… lost time with family… a lost job… maybe we had to cancel a vacation or a music festival that we were looking forward to. Some of those things seem trivial when compared to the lives lost due to COVID-19 but it is important to keep in mind that loss of any degree is hard.

It is my opinion that human beings like to know what to expect. We are creatures of habit. It is easy to assume that what we love will always be there. The trouble comes when a sudden loss occurs. We must learn to cope. The good news is that we have far more capacity and resilience than most of us give ourselves credit for.

Question: How do we know if what we’re experiencing is ‘normal?’
Shannon Radel: That’s a great question.
I’ll just start by saying that there really is no normal way to grieve. How we respond is as unique as you and I are as human beings.
One of my favorite quotes is by Queen Elizabeth I, who said, “Grief never ends, but it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor lack of faith. It is the price of love.”

I experienced a pretty significant loss myself last summer, and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced as an adult. And so I keep that quote in my wallet and on my office wall, because it really reminds me that on my darkest days, I feel this way because I loved someone. If we can view grief from that vantage point, we can change our response to it.

I encourage people to accept their feelings no matter where they are in the process. People may say things like “Worse things have happened,” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Those statements are well-intended, but they may not help the griever feel better.

Whether we’re trying to receive or give comfort, know that it’s okay not to know what to say. Saying something like, “I don’t know what to say right now, but just know that I care about you or I’m here for you if you need anything,” can truly be one of the most meaningful things you could offer.

Question: That is such a beautiful quote. Can you share more about how grief affects us?
Shannon Radel: There are three major types of grief…. anticipatory, complicated and disenfranchised.
Anticipatory grief is when we are expecting something to happen that we know will deeply hurt us. For example, when a loved one begins with hospice care. You know their passing is inevitable. The second most common type of grief is called complicated grief. Complicated grief is when there are painful emotions that are so long lasting and so severe that we have trouble recovering from that loss or resuming our own life again. Lastly, there is disenfranchised grief. This is grief that often is not acknowledged by society. Those examples could include the death of a friend, the loss of a pet, a miscarriage or the death of a loved one due to a socially unacceptable way.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 came up with the concept of five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People who are grieving don’t necessarily go through all the stages. And they certainly may not experience them in that order.

The takeaway is that there isn’t a specific way you will grieve. It is important to avoid comparing your loss to those around you. It is also important to avoid comparing your current loss to a loss you previously experienced. 

Grief is a process. One of the best metaphors is that of a roller coaster. If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster, you know the feeling. It goes up, down, makes sudden turns and spins. In the same way, life and grief have ups and downs.

Listen to Shannon’s Transforming Your Grief Podcast Series at uplandhillshealth.org/podcasts and on top podcasting apps.

Are you struggling?
You are not alone.
Call 800-985-5990 to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
Find additional resources at:
www.southwestern.wi.networkofcare.org

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