Surviving Without

A story of loss and grief counseling

Loss is strange in that it’s both a constant the world over and dreaded enough to be completely blocked out individually. As far as everyday existence goes, we usually find ourselves ticking one of two boxes; those who can’t even imagine it and others who now find their lives shackled by a permanently empty seat. 

At the start of the year, I’d say I fell in with the first set. Why wouldn’t I? I was young, caught up trying to find my way in the world while keeping the lights on, and my parents were still in an age “safe zone” as far as I was concerned. But when my close friend, we’ll call him Matthew, had his entire world turned over and I stood by as primary support, it felt like the pain engulfed me almost by extension. One thing was certain by the end of it all: there was no absolute certainty. Death could happen to anyone, and ‘anyone’ wasn’t just a random person on the news or back in my hometown anymore.

Of all the concepts we adjust to over the course of our lives, the idea of a time when our loved ones go away without a return date probably remains one of the most difficult to process. 

Even when we do spare it a reluctant thought, we tend to focus on the peripheries. Tears, calls, moving and wills may spring to mind. These are pretty vital: watching my friend get thrust into a leadership role in the house with his mom and younger sister suddenly depending on him made me see just what a gift it would’ve been for some preparations to have been made beforehand. But beyond that, it exposed me to a complex emotion cued by losing someone or something dear.

What is Grief?

Most of us have just a fleeting understanding of the word. It is usually summed up as ‘sadness’. And don’t we all get sad every now and then?

A medical review by the University of Michigan defined grief as a “natural response to the loss of someone or something very important to you.”

Natural in this context refers to how often death takes place in nature as opposed to your reaction to the impact it has on your life. Natural does not in any way imply you have the burden to “move on” or get over things quicker because they “happen to everyone.” Grief is in fact a very real feeling that runs much deeper than sadness. 

It involves your emotional attachment or investment in the departed; swallowing the disappointment of things that will never be, forgiving the guilt of issues left unsettled, and detangling any intersecting areas of your lives.

Grief should be felt and sorted through with care as much as any physical wound or it can and will lead to more emotional damage. 

A lot of us get the impression we’re expected to stomach it all and return to life like nothing happened. This is unhealthy since grief is weighty and gradual even in your perception of it. There’s normally not one big bout of tears followed by decades of sunshine like it seems on TV. I watched Matthew find this out the hard way after losing his dad and sister to a fatal accident in January

Matthew had never particularly been an optimist, but he’d had his life ahead of him and his ducks in at least a semicircle. He was raised to be independent but had relied on the occasional push from home. Understandably, the deaths hit him hard. 

As human beings, we have a tendency to struggle with balance and can operate at extremes. It’s why we place such high value on ‘good’ and ‘evil’ despite few things being that clear cut. Being yanked from this former comfort zone into an ugly reality caused Matthew to develop a pretty bleak alternative outlook on life. He started drinking more than ever, worked compulsively and got little to no sleep—all while trying to put on a “brave face” for the rest of the world.

In tangled cases like his, maybe uncontrollable sobbing would’ve made it easier for others to see and understand how badly he was hurting.

Already fumbling at navigating the stages of emotional wreckage that had landed in his lap, my friend was now isolating and rapidly sinking into a pool of depression. 

The distress from a whirlwind like this can be so potent it leads to physical sickness as well. Reported effects of grief include but are not limited to insomnia, numbness, vomiting, dehydration, eating disorders and the development of heart and liver problems; all of which stand to significantly lowers your standard of living. Obviously, this is not the type of monster you should be going up against alone.

Fortunately for Matthew, he found out strength didn’t mean drowning on the inside.

Surviving With Help

The truth is that people grieve differently. In line with their personalities, backgrounds, relationship with the departed and even cultural norms; individuals react to pain in a diverse manner. 

Therefore, it only makes sense that when assistance is needed on this a grief journey, that the help should also be customized to the person.

The good news is no matter where you find yourself, you do not have to go through it alone. With grief counseling, you can not only be aided in finding the right avenue of expression for yourself, but will also be coached on dealing with the overwhelming pain and given active coping methods to get through it.

You should know a counselor will do so much more than just “let you vent” as your family and friends/partner have hopefully already been doing. Grief counseling will allow you to unlock any denial or lingering guilt and enable you to come to terms with this new hole in your heart.

You will never truly get over loss, so it can be a misstep to attempt to rush through the grieving process.  At times though, we do need to hear that we’re allowed to smile again thereafter. That instead of looking past the event, it is our responsibility to live in loving and fruitful memory of our loved ones that have passed on.

If at any point you find yourself or someone close to you buckling under the weight of grief, do not hesitate to reach out to any of our licensed therapists for grief counseling. You deserve to feel like you can breathe again.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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