Thoughts On Grieving A Loss

by: Mike Karlson – CPC and Grief Counselor

One thing we can count on experiencing in our lives (in addition to death and taxes), is the pain we experience after a loss.  This may be the loss of a loved one, divorce, the loss of a job, etc.  Anytime we lose someone or something which was an important significant part of our lives we experience loss and grieving is a necessary part of the process.  I will be focusing on the loss of a loved one.

Whether the grief was anticipated for a long time such as with a long illness, or, sudden the results are the same, pain and sadness over the finality of our loss.  Although, in the first case where the loss was anticipated there may be feelings of relief  that you and your loved one are no longer suffering with their illness, there may have been time to make preparations, emotional, financial and otherwise.  In this case the actual stages of grief began at the start of the illness usually just prior to or at the time of diagnosis and may have lasted years before the actual loss occurred; after the loss they start again on a different level.  Even with preparations no longer having your loved one is very painful and the grieving process must be acknowledged and allowed expression.  

Sudden grief is the most shocking, there is no time to prepare or reconcile; no time to say good bye.  There is just a huge mind blowing absence and before the grieving process can begin, arrangements have to be made for events such as the funeral, memorial services, relatives, friends, and work associates need to be informed, etc. 

The shock of sudden grief can be overwhelming.  You may have been having breakfast together that morning planning a vacation and making funeral arrangements that evening.

My sister experienced something similar on a Sunday afternoon in November of ’07. 

Her husband suffered a heart attack and died after racking leaves in their back yard. 

It all happens so fast and before loved ones are able to get their minds around the events, it’s over!  Everyone goes back to their normal lives and then gradually you are left to yourself to handle the grieving process.  These stages which I’ll briefly discuss need to be dealt with and expressed.  Otherwise other problems may develop as a form of relief such as alcohol or drug abuse; becoming increasingly isolated over time; acting out and getting in trouble in school or at work and worse, in severe cases suicide maybe a concern and therapy warranted.

It’s generally agreed upon that we pass through 5-stages of Grief.  The following are as described by the Grief Counseling pioneer Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and they are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  These stages occur with all of us while dealing with a loss.  

They occur not in a linear sequential manner for a finite period, but are stages along grief’s continuum that blend together, at times we may move from one to another; these stages allow us to understand how we are feeling at a given time during the grief process.  For example, one may show signs of Denial and Acceptance in the same conversation:  Denial: “how could he just drop dead from a heart attack, he seemed so healthy and passed his physical!”; to Acceptance: “as hard as this is for me to come to terms with and as sad as I am, perhaps it was just his time and I need to understand that this is my new life.”   

For more discussion on the 5- stages I recommend reading, On Grief and Grieving, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler Partnership.   

In dealing with grief family and friends and support groups are very important.

From my experience the main thing a friend, counselor/life coach can do for one who is experiencing new grief is to listen more than talking.  Gradually more gentle discussion can take place.

For the one who is grieving it becomes difficult to continually discuss their grief with family and friends and they may feel that they are becoming burdensome and though friends can be very helpful they may not be equipped to handle this long term and there may be too much of an emotional attachment for objective listening.

As mentioned a weekly support group can be very helpful and even one-on-one sessions if preferred.  Eventually attending only once or twice per month may be appropriate but follow through is very important to express and release grief.  The grief of the loss is permanent but the suffering becomes optional with time.  An appropriate support person can help one who has experienced a loss cope better and take their life back and discover their new normal; giving them hope for a better tomorrow.

What would your loved one have wanted for you?

One healthy way of coping is to try to find a life purpose in the loss. 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, is an example of how bereaved mothers got together and did something important to reduce drunk driving fatalities and make people more conscious about controlling their drinking habits. 

Lynne Hughes lost both of her parents to natural causes when she was a child and developed Comfort Zone Camp, CZC, which helps bereaved children and teens cope with their grief in a camp setting.  The campers enjoy all the fun of camp with the inclusions of healing circles and memorial services.  The child realizes that they are not alone and in giving, receives support from others.  I am fortunate to volunteer at this camp and to be able to experience the “turbo bonding” as it is referred to between the campers.  Many of who didn’t want to come at first, yet find themselves loving the experience and becoming repeat campers, and even junior counselors for some.   

The purposes we find to help us cope do not have to be so lofty but can involve anything that will enrich and bring peace to the one who is grieving, what ever that may be, i.e., a new career, going back to school, starting a new health regimen, meditation and stress reduction, volunteer work- a great way to pull us out of ourselves, by focusing on helping others, very therapeutic.

Grief and loss is a topic for which much can be written.  This is a topic that is personal for me having experienced my first loss at 13, when I lost my mother to cancer.  This was 1970 and I don’t know of what existed in those days for bereavement care but it’s obvious to me now that my family could have benefited had we known and participated.

I’ll close with some ways we can all help those who are grieving:

  • 1) Get in touch-be ready with specific suggestions for help. It’s never too late to express your concern and be of help. But don’t offer more than you can deliver.
  • 2) Say little on the first visit – a few words show concern, and listen.

Avoid clichés and easy answers – “This happened for a reason”, no parent who just lost a child wants to hear this; better to simply say “I’m so sorry”. Don’t attempt to minimize the loss.

  • 3) Accept silence – don’t force conversation. Silence is better than random chatter. Be sensitive, allow the mourner to lead.
  • 4) Touch – a hug, a hand clasp, allow them to cling if they need to.
  • 5) Do not tell the bereaved how they should feel, don’t judge.
  • 6) Encourage postponement of making any major decisions if possible.
  • 7) Grief progresses at ones own pace, don’t expect too much too soon.
  • 8) Keep reaching out and eventually when appropriate encourage the mourner into outside activity, in small steps.
  • 9) Write a letter or a card expressing your personal remembrances. This will be appreciated and can be shared by the entire family.
  • 10) Encourage Forgiveness – the bereaved must forgive themselves and their loved one who has passed on. Often there are feelings of guilt and anger that we could somehow have caused a different outcome had we only known this or that; or, anger towards the deceased perhaps for not taking better care of himself, or anger for the way you were treated, etc. Helping the bereaved understand that we all generally do the best we are capable of given our consciousness levels, life experiences and belief systems can help with understanding and forgiveness.

Some feelings of guilt are normal but may prolong the grieving process.  We can attempt to focus the griever on the fact that we can’t change the past and create a better yesterday and that we would have chosen the relationship over again; that the relationship may not have been perfect but had love at its core and  he or she is better for.  Forgiveness is about love for yourself and the one who has passed on.

Eventually it is helpful to ask the bereaved to share a special memory of their loved one, or, of any tributes they conduct to honor their loved one.  Both memories and tributes are helpful to honor and keep cherished memories alive.

That is the beauty of grieving, it’s about love!  Without love there would be no grieving.

Thank you for your time in reading this short paper, I sincerely hope it is helpful.

About the Author:
Michael A. Karlson (Mike) has a long history of working with and helping others self actualize to achieve their life goals.
He is a Certified Professional Life Coach and Grief Counselor who helps others cope with loss, such as the loss of a loved one through death or divorce, as well as with the loss of a job. He provides emphatic support to his clients helping them come to terms with their life’s changes, adjust and move forward in a positive way helping clients find peace and fulfillment in life.  Through his support, a recovery from a loss that may have taken many months or even years is greatly reduced by his compassionate guidance, allowing those suffering to gain control and find meaning once again in their life.  Mike is also hospice trained and currently volunteers his time at Comfort Zone Camp helping bereaved children.  Mike is currently working on his website but you can email him at