Monday, June 23, 2014


Managing loss and grief

When we experience a loss, grief is the natural and healthy response.  It’s the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is taken away.  Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one. However, any loss can cause grief, including divorce or relationship breakup, loss of health, loss of a job, loss of financial stability, death of a pet, loss of a cherished dream, or even selling the family home.  The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is a psychiatrist who defined five stages of grief in 1969.  She first introduced them in her book, On Death and Dying, but the stages of grief have been applied to those experiencing other types of loss in life.  

The five stages of grief are:

•  Denial – Our first reaction can be one of shock and disbelief:  “This can’t be happening.”
•  Anger – The tendency to lash out in anger at who we think is to blame.
•  Bargaining – “If you take this problem away, I promise to_____________.”
•  Depression – “I’m too sorrowful to function right now.”
•  Acceptance – Finally, a feeling of peace with what has happened.

Each person’s path is unique.  It is common to vacillate between stages. It can be an emotional roller coaster.  For example, when a good friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I experienced the stages in different order, and sometimes got “stuck” in the anger stage, asking “Why is this happening to such a good person?”   It’s also common to feel anger with the sudden loss of a job or foreclosure of a home.

So what can we do to help us cope?   Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal, writing for an on-line information service at,   have authored an excellent article entitled “Coping with Grief and Loss.”   They explain that the single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people.  Sharing our feelings with others makes the burden of grief easier to carry.  Even people who pride themselves on being independent and self-reliant need to accept help.  Sometimes we can join a support group and derive comfort from others going through the same experience.  Some of us can draw solace from our faith, or talk to a therapist.

Second, it is more important than ever to take care of oneself when grieving.  Looking after our physical health is paramount.  Stress can be better managed by getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting exercise.  It’s easy to turn to drugs or alcohol to try to escape or numb the pain, but that may only  compound the problem.

Third, keep in mind that everyone copes with loss in different ways, and don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, or to “get over it.” There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loss.  Healing from emotional and psychological trauma takes time and patience.

If someone feels that the loss and grief has become too overwhelming, counseling should be sought. Unresolved, complicated grief can result in significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide.  Dial 211 in CT or go online to to get referrals for appropriate mental health counseling.  

I wanted to end this column on a positive note, so I called my friend and colleague Amy Dunion, RN, of the Backus Center for Healthcare Integration and asked for some positive words of advice.  Amy said we always need to be mindful about the importance of others no matter what stage of grieving we are in.  She offered this quote from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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