CBHA: When grief and loss consume us

by Submitted Columbia Basin Health Association
February 12, 2020 11:34 PM

Grief is a healthy, perfectly natural response to a loss. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. Queen Elizabeth II once said that grief is the price of love. And that makes sense. After all, we tend to grieve that which we’ve truly loved, but lost.

We often associate grief with the death of a loved one, but there are many other losses significant enough to prompt a grief response.

“Leaving a job or a home you loved, losing your health or independence, experiencing divorce or separation in your family or the end of any long-term relationship – all of these are reasons that a person might feel a great sense of loss,” said Elsie Garza, MSW, behavioral health consultant at Columbia Basin Health Association (CBHA). “I’ve counseled parents who’ve lost a child to miscarriage or to death, as well as parents who’ve lost contact with children in a separation or because their adult child is incarcerated. Sometimes, the losses that aren’t death aren’t recognized as a loss that would be grieved, but they absolutely are.”

Even though grief is universal, the process is very personal. It looks different for everyone.

“While the stages of grief are similar for most people, no two people experience grief exactly the same,” Garza said. “People start at different places. They might return to certain stages throughout their grieving, because grief isn’t linear. It’s a process. And, it’s a process that can last a lifetime. For most people, grief never completely goes away, but becomes something that is easier to manage.”

Most behavioral health professionals agree that when the grief causes a person to experience somatic (physical) changes in behavior, mood, or activity, it’s time to seek professional help.

“If the loss and grief keep a person from eating normally, or from sleeping well, or being able to work or take care of their children, I would encourage them to talk to someone,” Garza said. “Help is definitely available.”

A counselor can help the person navigate the more difficult waters of grief, and return to functioning in the world again, for themselves and for other living loved ones.

Sometimes when a friend or family member is deeply grieving, we’re afraid to “say the wrong thing,” so we end up not saying anything. But the silence or lack of acknowledgment of the person’s pain can actually make it worse.

“What we do is more important than what we say,” Garza said. “A nonjudgmental acceptance of the person’s grief and just being there for them can go a long way. Let them know it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be upset. Grief is complicated and sometimes messy. Not carrying it alone can be very helpful.”

Garza says that many of her clients find assurance and hope through counseling. Some also find comfort in their faith, in support groups, in family and close friends and in self-care. When a person isolates or feels unable to process their feelings, they’re more likely to engage in unhealthy coping strategies, such as self-medicating with substances, or avoiding anything to do with the subject of their grief. They’re also more prone to clinical depression.

“Grief is a time when we really can’t overstate the power of connection,” Garza said. “Being open and accepting to whatever a grieving person is feeling at the time. Being present and listening to them could be all that they need.”

Columbia Basin Health Association is located at 1515 Columbia St, in Othello, and can be reached at (509) 488-5256.