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4 steps to dealing with loss, plus why you need to grieve before you can 'move on.'

Ignoring grief tears at the fabric of being human, and disallows one of the most crucial experiences that must occur in the wake of our loss.

4 steps to dealing with loss, plus why you need to grieve before you can 'move on.'

I remember sitting with a friend who had been betrayed by her husband. After repeatedly cheating on her, he had abandoned her, and she felt helpless and alone for a long time.

During our conversation, it became increasingly clear to me that my friend was frustrated.

But she wasn’t frustrated because of what her ex-husband had done. Instead, she was frustrated because she was not fully healed emotionally, but felt that she should be healed by now.


“It was a few years ago," she said. "I feel like I should be over this by now.”

I immediately stopped her. She was still in intense pain, but not because she had grieved this loss for too long. No, she was still in pain because she hadn’t allowed herself to grieve at all.

One of the most damaging narratives we're fed is that grieving should only be done under strict controls.

Funerals are one of the few places we're "allowed" to grieve. Photo via iStock.

We’re sometimes told — either implicitly or explicitly — that it’s not appropriate to make a fuss, that grieving should be done in private, and perhaps, worst of all, that grief has an expiration date.

Society’s message is often incredibly clear: Grief is uncomfortable for others, so stay away and grieve alone. Grieving is a problem, so we’re going to put a gag order on it. If you need to grieve, fine, but it must not interfere with conventional norms.

But I want to set the record straight: This mindset can be incredibly destructive. Ignoring grief tears at the fabric of being human and disallows one of the most crucial experiences that must occur in the wake of our loss.

What so many of us fail to understand is that grief is a perfectly natural response to loss.

Although grief is generally associated with the death of a loved one, it can occur in response to any loss. If you’ve ever had a relationship fall apart, suffered a debilitating injury, faced financial calamity, or even had to deal with the consequences of having to let go of a dream, you’ve experienced grief.

Grief is an expression of the love that’s borne of our pain. Yet because it’s viewed as an unpleasant, irritating aberration, millions of people feel as if they do not have permission to grieve. This narrative plays out all the time, both privately and publicly.

For example, if anyone has ever told you to “move on” from a devastating injury or to “get over” a failed relationship, or they suggested that you should be thankful for the loss of a loved one because it was meant to “teach” you something, you’ve been subjected to this kind of shaming.

But telling grieving people to “get over” or “let go” of their losses can cause them to do the exact opposite of what these words intend. Instead of finding any sense of solace or hope in the most difficult period of their lives, they bury their grief in layer upon layer of shame and fear. The more they try to buck up or pretend as if their pain doesn’t exist, the more they fall into hopelessness and despair.

The reality is there is no one right way to grieve.

Photo via iStock.

Anyone who tells you otherwise simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, when you’ve suffered a loss, the single most important thing you can do if you want to find new life amid tragedy is to grieve the way you need to, and grieve fully, in whatever form that takes.

While there is no prescriptive way to grieve, it’s such a taboo topic that most of us don’t even know where to begin. In my experience, it helps to start with the following:

1. Truly acknowledge that you are, in fact, grieving.

This is usually very difficult to come to terms with because allowing yourself to grieve demands that you be vulnerable — not just with others, but with yourself. You must be willing to look yourself in the mirror and resist the temptation to bury the pain that resides within you.

Psychological research has shown that those who repress their grief are more likely to succumb to depression, sleep disorders, and other adverse effects in the aftermath of grief than those who don’t. As scary as it can be to allow yourself to experience grief, the reality is that it can actually prevent complications down the line.

2. Reach out to someone who’s willing to stand with you and listen without judgment.

Photo via iStock.

Most clinicians, including researchers at The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, stress the importance of finding support amid grief. In fact, it’s often cited as the most important step you can take when grief has consumed you.

3. Understand that you, and only you, can truly define what “getting better” might look like.

After all, when you’ve suffered a tremendous loss, you don’t ever really return to “normal.” You can’t get a loved one back or “cure” an incurable illness. The task is not to “heal” as defined by other people, but to build a new life for yourself in light of what you have lost.

4. Don’t hesitate to seek out support from a licensed therapist or in a support group.

Note that I said support, not help. In the early phases of grief, “help” is too often tied to the notion of being “repaired.” You don’t need to be repaired as you learn to grieve. You need to be supported, and that comes when you find a person or community of people who are willing to accept you, just as you are, and bear witness to your pain.

Grief is not a linear process.

Grief is a lonely, aching, complicated journey with many winding roads. Remember that although only you can experience your grief in your own way, you’re not alone in that experience. Right now, at this very moment, millions of other people are grieving tremendous losses alongside you. Recognizing this won’t make everything better, but it can serve as a source of refuge as you navigate your losses.

Some years ago, a close friend of mine committed suicide. As I grieved this terrible loss, I distinctly remember one person telling me to "get over it" just a month after my friend’s death. This left me humiliated and angry. My first inclination was to hide my grief, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I could also choose to ignore this person’s terrible advice. The loss of my friend should never have happened, and I needed to experience my grief on my own.

Your losses should never have happened either.

The fact that you’re faced with tragedy is itself painful enough. How you honor what you have lost is something that you — and only you — can enact.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Sikh hikers tied their turbans together to make a rope.

One of the primary tenets of the Sikh faith is "sewa," or selfless service. We have seen sewa in action in Sikh communities organizing to feed the hungry and rallying to help stranded truck drivers, but sometimes opportunities to practice selfless service pop up in unexpected places.

According to Maple Ridge News, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue received a call at around 6:00 p.m. on October 11 alerting them that two hikers were in trouble just above the Lower Falls at Golden Ears Provincial Park in British Columbia. The manager of the search and rescue, Rick Laing, told the news outlet that one of the men had fallen into the pool above the falls and was struggling to get out.

But before the rescue team got there, a group of five male hikers were alerted to the stranded men and took the matter into their own hands—and heads. The hikers were Sikhs and were wearing the traditional dastaar (turban)—a piece of cotton cloth up to six yards long wrapped around the head.

"We were trying to think how we could get them out, but we didn't know how to," Kuljinder Kinda, one of the hikers, told NBC News. "So we walked for about 10 minutes to find help and then came up with the idea to tie our turbans together."

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."