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the RELATIONSHIP dance WITH VICKI MINERVA Grief is Unavoidable! E veryone experiences loss along life’s path. That loss may be the death of a loved one, divorce, the loss of a job, a friendship, health changes for yourself or someone close to you, a move. Even good changes can potentially be a loss with the transition from what was familiar, to something new. Identifying it as a loss can help to make sense of what you’re feeling. The form your grief takes is unique to you, and the relationship you had to that which you’ve lost. The intensity and duration of your grief is also unique to you, but should gradually lessen over time. There are common things that you might experience: • Sadness, feeling empty, despair • Shock or disbelief that your loss has occurred • Anger at yourself, others, God • Guilt, regrets about something you did or didn’t do or say • Fear or anxiety about the future • Physical symptoms (aches and pains, fatigue, weight change, insomnia) Grief is not the same thing as depression. It’s a NORMAL response to your loss. It can, however, become depression or complicated grief. If the intensity of your grief does not decrease as time passes, you have suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness, inability to function in the day to day, have extreme anger or guilt—these may indicate that you’re having a difficult time with healing and should consult with someone to help you make your way through the process. The sting of grief can echo over time as the wave of secondary losses begin to become apparent. Things like losing a support system when you change jobs, or your identity as a married person after a divorce. I remember one woman’s sadness as she neared the end of the last bottle of perfume her husband had pur- chased for her. It was a tangible thing that made her feel connected to him which hit her again when it was gone. Birthdays, holidays and special events will perhaps always have the shadow of your loss in the background. Your grief may also be about the dreams you had for your future; landmarks you would have celebrated with a child as he or she grew up, the anticipated vacation you’d take as a family which you can’t afford after a job loss, or the phone call you can’t make. It’s important that you take care of yourself to promote healing. It’s as if you have a wound that needs to be tended. As mentioned earlier, acknowledging your pain and identifying it as loss is an important first step. Even if you must function and “be strong” in some settings, honesty with yourself in quiet moments, and with safe people, is an important part of being able to work through it. I’m not suggesting that you need to be completely transparent with everyone, everywhere. You can choose with whom you share your pain, and in which setting you do it. Not everyone is safe. Turn to those safe people. Let them provide meals, or support you by doing practical things. Those that can emotionally help by being a good listener without judgement become invaluable. They help by standing with you as you express your sadness and fear at a time when you feel alone and broken. Their presence can bring comfort and hope. It’s also ok to let people know when you need time to yourself. The work of grieving is exhausting so don’t expect yourself to keep up with your previous levels of involvement. You can choose who you have the energy and emotional need to connect with and/or stay away from. The one warning I’d offer is to not isolate and cut yourself off from all your support systems. Too much aloneness isn’t a good thing. Understand that grieving can vary in its duration from months to two years or more. There is no normal. In my experience, some losses such as the death of a child, or death by suicide or violence, leave a perma- nent hole. It doesn’t mean that you can’t live a productive and satisfying life, but it changes you. These may be circumstances where the help of a support group or professional is particularly helpful to avoid moving into depression. Remember that it won’t always feel this way. The lows won’t be as deep and they won’t hit as often. Maintain some rou- tines; it’s comforting to realize that some things stay predictable. If you don’t find yourself having better days as time goes on, reach out. Your life is still worth living. Vicki Minerva has lived and worked in the South County area as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 35 years. Her education includes a M.Div. degree from Fuller Seminary and a M.A. in Marriage, Family Counseling from Santa Clara University. You can contact her at 408.848.8793 or visit vickiminerva.com My goal is to provide you with some information and help you access tools that will help you live your life and manage your relationships in healthier ways. This information is not a substitute for personal counseling and should not be taken out of context. There are many reputable therapists in the South County area should you need additional help. 74 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN MAY/JUNE 2017 gmhtoday.com