Whether or not you knew someone who died in the September 11 attack, we all lost a great deal on that day. We lost America as we knew it. We lost a lot of our fellow citizens, and we lost some of our peace, comfort, and trust.
We’re all grieving. That’s our natural response to loss. However, there’s a proper and healthy way to grieve, a way that will help you get through this and any future loss.
First, RECOGNIZE YOUR LOSS. Most people expect to feel grief with the loss of a life. But even positive changes, such as a marriage or a new house result in a loss. In fact, any change in life means the loss of something else, and feelings of grief can kick in.
Initially, a loss can numb you. I know that happened to me with regard to the events of September 11. Loss can bring so much change that you feel overwhelmed by a sense of unreality.
You may even ask yourself, “Did it really happen?” The first step is recognizing your loss. The less time you spend in denial, the more time you have to get on with your life.
Second, EXPERIENCE THE PAIN. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a loss, your feelings may be so intense that you try to avoid them. But tears, sadness, and other expressions of grief do not mean you’re “breaking down. “You’re actually “breaking through. “Minimizing your pain, or trying to suppress it with alcohol or drugs, only postpone the day you must face it. So allow yourself to feel the pain.
Your emotions are a lot like ocean waves. Like the waves, the grieving process follows a natural course that builds and recedes. It can’t be rushed, and it can’t be turned back. And like the waves, the waves of grief, with their intense emotional, physical, and mental undercurrents, can wash over you for some time. You may want to resist, but “flowing” with these waves helps you accept your loss and focus on a hopeful future.
In terms of emotions, you will go through five distinct emotions when you’re faced with a loss. You will start with DENIAL. You simply don’t want to believe the loss occurred. Then you experience ANGER. You feel “robbed. “You’re angry with the person you lost or caused the loss. You’re angry because he or she hurt you.
Then GUILT washes over you. You may think you’re somehow responsible for the loss. You think you could have done more to prevent the loss, and you feel guilty about feeling angry. That can turn to DESPAIR. You feel varying degrees of sadness and loneliness as you yearn for the past.
Finally, if you’re moving through the grief process in a healthy way, you feel HOPE. You gradually accept your loss and adjust to the changes it brings. You start to have hope for the future.
Waves of grief can wash over you whenever something reminds you of your loss. Just when you think you should be “over” your loss, special dates, pictures, even songs or smells can kick off another wave of grief that you must again work through. By flowing with these waves, and not struggling against them, you’ll find that hope comes more easily each time. As time passes, these waves will grow smaller, less frequent, and easier to deal with.
Third, USE THE POSITIVE “BUT. “In any situation, in any loss, there is always some good. If you can balance each painful loss with a corresponding good, you will arrive at hope a lot more quickly.
For example, as horrible as our loss at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania tend to be, a lot of good is coming out of this. Americans are renewing their patriotism and turning to their God. Americans are reaching out with their time, their blood, and money to help in any way they can. And Americans are taking actions that will create a safer, freer world.
To get specific, if you’re dealing with a loss, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the top left-hand side, write the word “Losses,” and list all your losses, big and small.
On the top right-hand side, write the word “Blessings,” and list all your blessings that counteract or offset your losses. I call it the “positive but. “
For example, I had an 85-year old lady in one of my programs a while ago. She was a delightful individual, still investing in her personal development, although she had her losses. When we did the above exercise, she wrote on the left side, “I lost my husband. “Then she wrote on the right side “BUT I still have my children. ” She continued, “I lost a lot of money when my stocks dropped drastically, BUT I still have my house which is paid for. My hearing has gotten rather poor, BUT I can still see very well to read. My son moved out of town, BUT he still calls me on the phone every week. “
Do you see the point? She could have focused all her energy on the left side, on the fact she lost a husband, lost some money, lost some hearing, and had her son move. She could have focused on all her losses and been fairly depressed. But she chose to offset her losses with blessings, to focus on the right side, and coped quite well demonstrating good stress management.
Finally, if you just can’t get past your loss and your grief, TAKE EXTRA GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF. The grieving process can wear you out. So pay special attention to your need for rest and nourishment. Try some exercise, as that can help release the pent-up feelings and stress of grief. Put unrelated stressful decisions on hold, at least initially, and set some goals that you can realistically achieve.
Part of that self-care is finding some good listeners. Telling others how you feel helps you to recognize and accept your loss. I know I’ve been using this strategy every day since our national disaster on September 11.
When you look for good listeners, others who have weathered grief can reassure you that you’re not alone. But avoid “advice givers” or people who try to offer solutions. You have to ride the waves of grief at your pace, not theirs. Choose people you trust or have supported you in the past. And the best listeners are ones who won’t be embarrassed by your strong emotions.
All of us had our hearts pierced on September 11, and we’ll have our hearts pierced many times in the future. As much as I hate to say it, loss and grief will always be a part of our lives. The good news is, if you deal with your loss appropriately, it doesn’t have to crush your hope.
Action on Stress Management:
This week, I encourage you to use the positive “BUT” strategy. Write down your losses and balance those with blessings. You’ll renew your energy and fire up your resolve.