Grief and Loss

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Post-deployment User Guide Transition Workbook for Combat Veterans
Naval Health Research Center
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The following are many ideas to help people who are mourning a loved one’s death. Different kinds of losses dictate different responses,
so not all of these ideas will suit everyone. Likewise, no two people grieve alike – what works for one may not work for another. Treat this list for what it is; a gathering of assorted suggestions that various people have tried with success. Perhaps what helped them will help you. The emphasis here is on specific, practical ideas.

Talk regularly with a friend.

Talking with another about what you think and feel is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It helps relieve some of the pressure you may feel, it can give you a sense of perspective, and it keeps you in touch with others. Look for someone who’s a good listener and who has a caring soul. Then speak what’s on your mind and in your heart. If this feels one-sided let that be okay for this period of your life. Chances are the other person will find meaning in what they’re doing, and time will come when you’ll have the chance to be a good listener for someone else. You’ll be a better listener then, if you’re a good talker now.

Carry or wear a linking object.

Carry something in your pocket or purse that reminds you of the one who died – a keepsake they gave you perhaps, or small object they once carried or used or a memento you select for just this purpose. You might wear a piece of their jewelry in the same way. Whenever you want, reach for gaze upon this object and remember what it signifies.

Visit the grave.

Not all people prefer to do this. But if it feels right to you, then do so. Don’t let others convince you this is a morbid thing to do. Spend whatever time feels right there. Stand or sit in the quietness and do what comes naturally: be silent or talk, breathe deeply or cry, recollect or pray. You may wish to add your distinctive touch to the grave site – straighten it a bit, or add little signs of your love.

Tell people what helps you and what does not.

People around you may not understand what you need. So tell them. If hearing your loved one’s name spoken aloud by others feels good, say so. If you need more time alone, or assistance with chores you’re unable to complete, or an occasional hug, be honest. People can’t read your mind, so you’ll have to speak it.

Give yourself respites from your grief.

Just because you’re grieving does not mean you must always be feeling sad or forlorn. There’s value in sometimes consciously deciding that you’ll think about something else for awhile, or that you’ll do something you have always enjoyed doing. Sometimes this happens naturally and it’s only later you realize that your grief has taken a back seat. Let it, this is not an indication you love that person any less or that you’re forgetting them. It’s a sign that you’re human and you need relief from the unrelenting pressure. It can also be a healthy sign you’re healing.

See a grief counselor.

If you’re concerned about how you’re feeling and how well you’re adapting make an appointment with a counselor who specializes in grief. Often you’ll learn what you need both about grief and about yourself as a griever in only a few sessions. Ask questions of the counselor before you sign on. What specific training does he or she have? What accreditation? A person who is a family therapist or a psychologist doesn’t necessarily understand the unique issues of someone in grief.

Connect on the Internet.

If you’re computer savvy, search the Internet. You’ll find many resources for people in grief, as well as the opportunity to chat with fellow grievers. You can link up with others without leaving your home. You’ll also find more to expand your horizons as a person who is beginning to grow.

Speak to a clergy person.

If you’re searching for answers to the larger questions about life and death, religion and spirituality, consider talking with a representative of your faith, or even another’s faith. Consider becoming a spiritual friend with another and making your time of grieving a time of personal
exploring.

Vent your anger rather than hold it in.

You may feel awkward being angry when you’re grieving, but anger is a common reaction. The expression holds true: anger is best out floating rather than in bloating. Even if you feel a bit ashamed as you do it, find ways to get it out of your system. Yell, even if it’s in an empty house. Cry. Resist the temptation to be proper. Go for a brisk walk. Do a long, hard workout. Vacuum up a storm. Do some yard work. Physical activity helps release anger.

When do you know you need professional help?

If you experience any of the following you should consider professional help:

  • preoccupation with someone who has died or constantly wanting to go places or find things that remind you of him/her
  • physical pain in the same body area that was injured when a friend/loved one died
  • systematically avoiding reminders of someone who has died
  • inability to accept the reality of a death or continuing to feel stunned or shocked even after time has passed
  • moments when you think you see someone who has died
  • feeling empty or lonely most of the time
  • feeling like you should not be alive now that a friend/loved one has died or believing you deserve to be punished in some way
  • feeling like you cannot care for other people or respect or trust them anymore

Facts about Grieving

  • There are five different emotional stages many people go through as they grieve. In order, these are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
  • Immediately after a great loss, most people have a hard time accepting and believing the reality of it. The most common initial reaction is disbelief and shock.
  • Anger may follow after denial. Once the reality of the loss has sunk in, you may ask “why me?” Anger could be focused in many directions––God, the universe, yourself, other people, or the situation in general. Anger could be triggered by many things––the time of day, reminders of the loss, daily frustrations, or seemingly nothing at all.
  • Bargaining is another common reaction to loss. In this stage you may want to make a deal with God to change the situation. You may find yourself replaying the events leading up to your loss trying to figure out what you could have done to prevent it.
  • After the anger and the bargaining, as you begin to accept your loss, you may experience depression. You may only then start to feel the depth of your sadness in reaction to what has happened.
  • Although there will always be some sadness over the loss, there is ultimately a stage of acceptance. In this stage, you will have found helpful ways to cope. You will have reorganized your life to fit your new reality. You may also have found ways to promote some greater good in reaction to your loss.
  • Going through the stages of grief will be somewhat different for every person and for every situation. Each stage may last a longer or shorter amount of time. The stages may follow each other in order sequentially. Alternatively, you may experience more than one stage at once or you may go back and forth between them. All of these reactions are normal.

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Resources for Grief Counseling and Support

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Elizabeth Hospice Bereavement Services
500 La Terraza Blvd., Suite 130
Escondido CA 92025
(760) 737-2050
(800) 797-2050
elizabethhospice.org

Offers open and free drop-in “Circle of Care” Grief Support Groups in various North County locations. Specialized, topic-specific and time-limited groups are also offered for a small fee/sliding scale. These include groups for spousal, parental, mother, child loss, “the second year of loss” and “healing the heart of a man” – for men who have experienced a loss of any kind.
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Survivors of Violent Loss Program
3660 Clairemont Drive, Suite 2
San Diego, CA 92117
(619) 685-0005
survivorsofviolentloss.org/home.html

Provides support and counseling services for those who have lost someone to violent death as well as to those who work with them. Services are provided on a sliding scale fee schedule, and scholarships are available for those who are unable to pay. Services are open to adults, children, and families.
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Eagles Wings
2115 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2300
veteranmuseum.org/about/programs

Provide assistance to veterans whose lives have been permanently altered by the death of their spouse. The program consists of a series of four presentations that provide information about the grieving process. Following each presentation, professional facilitators lead small group sessions. Issues of a spiritual and religious nature are treated respectfully for all individual views and beliefs. Sessions are offered on four consecutive Sunday afternoons during the months of January, April, July and October.
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Survivors of Suicide Loss of San Diego County
P.O Box 3297
La Mesa, CA 91944
(619) 482-0297
soslsd.org

Program offers support to anyone who has suffered the loss of a family member, relative, or friend by suicide. Bereavement groups are held in various locations in San Diego County. Support groups for teens are also available.
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Empty Cradle
P.O. Box 711563
Santee, CA 92072
(619) 595-3887
emptycradle.org

Monthly self-help support groups for parents who have experienced the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. Individual phone support is also available through a network of trained parents who have also experienced a loss. Meetings are held throughout San Diego County and Riverside.
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Grief Recovery after a Substance Passing
9890 Genesee Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
(619) 890-5252
grasphelp.org

Provides a grief support group and other sources of help for families, friends and loved ones who had loved ones die as a result of drugs.