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Putting yourself back together

Grief and loss can be debilitating but can be overcome. 

Ms Howard stood rigid and unemotional by the grave in which her 20-year-old son Patrick was buried. Life as she knew it was over. Time was now referred to as, “Before Patrick's death” and “After Patrick's death.” It's been 10 years since her loss. As she sat on my sofa, she said with a smile, “You know, Patrick wanted to be a psychologist. He wanted to work with people who had lost someone dear and look at the irony... here I am, still grieving Patrick, even after 10 years.”
It has taken Ms Howard years to reach out and ask for support. All this time has been spent trying to hold her family together, move on, live life and “get over it”. “After a point people merely feel sympathy, but no empathy. They said that I should try to forget and stop grieving. People keep telling me that 10 years is a long time. I feel very depressed that I am unable to move on.”

Part of life
Grief and loss can come disguised as divorce, breakup, death, sickness, poverty, infertility, natural disasters, and political upheaval. It is a part of our lives and the most painful. From the death of a dream to the death of a spouse, life's trajectory is never going to be loss-free. Coping with grief requires tremendous strength and a strong support system.
Only after 10 years was Ms Howard able to find the space to process her grief, to ask tough questions, to cry unfettered. Her pain was raw, burned bright and got stronger as our sessions went on but, slowly, the intensity began to reduce, as a cool acceptance set in. Ms Howard's grief had the space to dissolve and coagulate into healing, creating strength and compassion in its wake.
Loss thrusts us into an unfamiliar and cold world. Such a place can be unsettling, bringing with it physical symptoms like nausea, fainting, trembling or an inability to move and think. But, beyond a certain point, we have to cope with grief. As Neha discovered, it is a conscious process, which would break her open before she could put herself together again.
Overcoming loss and beginning to live again is the one thing that we never anticipate after we have experienced it. The truth is, whether we like it or not, life continues. The decision we need to make is whether we wish to move on.
Taking the first step is always the hardest and this is where sharing your feelings helps. It can be with someone close, a counsellor or through writing and painting. Expressing how we feel is always the first and hardest step in the recovery from loss.

Proactive approach
In order to move from merely surviving to actually thriving, we need to adopt a conscious, proactive approach to our healing.
Today Ms Howard has arrived at a spiritual understanding of Patrick's death. She firmly believes he had accomplished what he had too and his death was something she could not control. What she could control was how she chooses to live thereafter. Grief over a loss stays; time merely reduces the intensity of how hard the waves of pain hit us. And like a rock in the sea, pain polishes our souls to reflect compassion. We have no choice but to move ahead, but how we do it, is within us.

Stages of grief Grief has its stages and it's important to recognise them to help you normalise what you feel. The stages can occur in any order and may repeat. They include some or all of the following. Denial: One feels that the loss is unreal and will reverse, or that it is a bad dream. Some people tend to disassociate from the loss and behave as though everything is normal. Anger: Denial gives way to feelings of “Why me? It's not fair…” Along with feelings of blame or hatred towards the person or oneself. Bargaining: Common in divorces and breakups. “Maybe it doesn't have to end?” “Maybe we could try again?” Depression: Sadness and fears about the future set in. One may fear being lonely, being alone forever, never being happy again. Acceptance: Finally one accepts the reality of the situation and understands the need to try and move on. This depends on the person or situation.

Healthy coping strategies Take it one hour at a time, one day at a time, if need be one moment at a time Get enough sleep or at least enough rest. Ask your doctor for a prescription sleeping pill to help you get some rest Try and maintain some type of a normal routine Eat a balanced diet. Limit high calorie and junk food. Drink plenty of water. Unhealthy food will lead to further depression Avoid alcohol, medication or other drugs Do things and be with people who comfort, sustain and recharge you Talk to others, especially those who have lived through and survived similar experiences. Seek online support groups Find creative ways — journal, paint, photograph, build, woodwork, quilt, knit - to express your feelings Recall coping skills you used to survive past losses. Draw upon these inner strengths again It is okay to feel depressed and not want to do anything. It is also okay to ask for help and reach out even at odd hours. Be kind to yourself and accept the process of grieving, like crying spells, depression, lack of desire for work or pleasure, or the inability to “hold it together.”


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