by Shirley L. Williams

Grief, what is It? Is it just what you feel when a loved one or friend dies? If you look on the internet, that’s the definition. However, grief, sadness, or emotional suffering can occur for other losses as well. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “intense emotional suffering caused by loss, disaster, misfortune”. Grief is really a process. Through life, we experience all sorts of losses that cause us to feel sad. As a child, you may have lost your favorite comfort object or teddy bear, you know, the one you needed to hold when you felt scared or alone. Parents can be role models for their children, for instance, how they listen and understand their children’s losses and how they as adults react to their own losses and then adapt.

As life continues, gains and losses occur all the time.  With loss of a pet, loss of a job, and loss of a friendship, we may experience some sadness, or more intense suffering. As we age, we experience grief or sadness for the reduction of function of our eyes, ears, reduced mobility, memory, or loss of a body part.  Each loss may be very significant and disrupt your life, or not so disruptive and life goes on.  

Each person is unique in their life experiences and their losses. They are unique in how they interpreted them, how it affects their day to day life and their level of happiness. We cannot really understand someone else’s grief. The best help we can give is to listen and show that we care. They do not need our advice on how to carry on. 

My long career as a nurse in cancer care helped me to appreciate the many types of losses that people have experienced, the differences in the meaning of that loss for that person and their resilience to continue on.

One of my friends recently lost a beloved dog after 14 years of happy times. The grief I saw her express was profound. This is a person that everyone loves to be around because of her infectious laugh and beautiful smile, but weeks after the loss of this dog and anticipation of the loss of her other 14-year-old dog, she is still sad, and the grief is still with her. Those of us that know her, can feel her pain. Some would say, it’s just a dog, but pets can have a profound effect on your life. Just recently in a Time magazine article, (February 2020), “Pets Are Part of Our Families. Now They’re Part of Our Divorces, Too”, explains the significance of attachment to pets. A 16-year childless marriage had ended but the husband and wife spent a total of $54, 000 to finally come to terms in joint custody of their two dogs.

How does one recover from a loss, or grief?  How does one have resilience or the ability to carry on as before, or accept the new “normal” after losses? You may feel very sad, physically spent and withdrawn for a time. The best way is to anticipate that there will be losses in life, from losing people, pets, your voice, your ability to walk, to see, etc. Connecting with others that share your interests, your values throughout your life helps as many will be role models for you to observe. 

We may be fortunate to belong to Interest groups in our community, churches, gardeners, quilters, choral groups, book clubs or neighbors who are a community of caring people. We may have noted others in the group have endured losses of various kinds. Many can become role models in resilience as we recognize that each has their unique way and time of recovering from those losses.