Good Grief

There aren’t many things in life that we can be absolutely certain of. Sure, there’s the old saying that the only things we can be sure of are death and taxes, which, whether we like it or not, is true. Another thing we can be sure that we will experience at one time or another is some degree of change.

As a therapist who specializes in assisting my clients with life transitions, my clients confide in me regularly about relatively minor changes in life to very significant ones, as well. These changes can occur in myriad ways. Perhaps as a child you experienced moving from one grade to another, or one school to another. As an adult, you probably have experienced moving from one company to another, or even from one career to another. If we are truly mindful, we see that change is happening for us at every moment.

A favorite activity in my practice is to have clients draw a sort of timeline on a large, blank piece of paper. At the top, I have them write, “Change Timeline”. I ask them to draw a timeline of all the changes that they have experienced in their life, whatever comes to mind. Some people like to be creative in this exercise, and draw a path or a road with pictures representing the changes they have experienced along the way. Others like to draw a more literal timeline with dots and words describing the event along a straight line. Either way is fine. After my clients tell me that they are finished, I invite them to be with their timeline for just a few minutes. Then, I ask them to look at the title at the top of the page — “Change Timeline”. I instruct them to cross out the word “Change” and write “Loss”. The top of the timeline then reads “Loss Timeline.”

You see, along with every change comes loss. Even the change in the time of day carries with it a certain loss, as that moment will never be repeated again. When people view the changes in their life not only as transitions but also losses, it provides a deeper context to understand current feelings, challenges, and emotions as a new dimension of loss is discovered. Most people are unaware of how much unacknowledged grief and loss they have experienced, and gain new insight and self-compassion.

Through this lens, it is clear that grief is not something that just a few people experience when a major death loss occurs. In fact, grief can occur with everything from changing jobs, moving homes, having children, or even seemingly good news like getting a promotion or getting married. Along with every change, something is lost — even if something is gained.

Most of the time, we can bounce back from changes that we experience without the assistance of a counselor or therapist. Trouble arises, however, when we fail to acknowledge the significance of loss and avoid working through it. Over time, unacknowleged or unprocessed grief can start to show up as depression, stress, irritability, or anxiety. This is often when it is helpful to consult with a therapist or trusted practitioner. Therapists are trained to help guide clients through life transitions — including the loss of children, parents, or spouses, job changes, or adjusting to new surroundings.

What’s most important is to acknowledge that just by virtue of the human experience, we will all experience loss to some degree at various points in our lives. Be compassionate with yourself and extend yourself understanding and grace when you do. Over time, the intensity of grief will diminish. As Renoir said, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” Although it may always be a part of our lives, as we appropriately acknowledge our grief, we can experience wholeness again.

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Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC

2727 Bryant St. #104
Denver, CO 80211

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