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    How Grief Can Help us Build Resilience

    Resilience is ‘’the strength and speed of our response to adversity’’. In essence, emotional stability (such as Resilience) is the ability to bounce back quickly after tragedy has occurred.

    Grief and Resilience

    It’s hard (particularly for grievers) to imagine how the words ‘’resilience’’ and ‘’grief’’ could coexist in the same sentence much less go hand in hand in the grief recovery process.

    Some might argue that there is no such thing as recovery from Grief; that Grief is an emotional burden to be forever carried, rather than something that a person can eventually recover from. 

    There might be a grain of truth to both paradigms, that perhaps Grief is the heavy rucksack we will all have to carry at some point – as we navigate our way through to recovery (and how recovery looks will be different from person to person).

    Before we examine the correlation between Grief and Resilience, let’s first take a look at both meanings in more detail.

    What is Grief?

    According to grief recovery experts, John James and Russell Friedman

    ‘’Grief is the normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind. Therefore the feelings you have are normal and natural for you’’ (Grief recovery handbook).

    James and Friedman believe Grief to be:

    • The conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour 
    • An emotional state where there is no universal responses or reactions 
    • As different and unique as the relationship with the person we lose – therefore each griever will experience an individual response to loss
    • A personal mourning experience where there are no absolutes

    Perhaps it’s also important to discern what James and Friedman meant by the word recovery as some people (particularly those in early Grief) might find the term traumatising (and rightly so!).

    The translation of grief recovery means:

    • Assigning or finding a new meaning to living without the continuous feeling that you may be hurt or bereft again
    • Having the ability to enjoy fond memories, without them triggering painful reactions such as regret or remorse
    • Claiming your circumstances
    • Realising that being sad is NORMAL and that it is OK
    • Being able to talk about your feelings regardless of other people’s reactions
    • Gaining the skills that allow a person to deal with loss directly

    According to John James and Russell Friedman, incomplete recovery from Grief can lead to lifelong dissatisfaction and can harm a person’s capacity for future happiness.

    That’s one school of thought. 

    There are broader definitions that describe the complexities of Grief. 

    In early Grief, or particularly when death is anticipated (such as when someone is terminally ill), family members become plagued with a myriad of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and questions.  

    Is this normal?

    When a loved one has died – nothing can prepare you for the pain and shock that accompanies the loss. 

    Loss rips open our hearts and can expose us to our deepest fears and weaknesses, a process that leaves many exhausted and empty.

    Temporarily, it can feel as though your brain and body are no longer operating the way they used to. 

    A person in early Grief is likely to feel outside of their own body and can experience feelings of unreality.

    According to Cruse, one of the many questions that can plaque those in deep Grief is often: ‘’Is the way I’m feeling normal?’’ 

    The short answer to that question is – in Grief, anything goes. 

    Other common occurrences in Grief include:

    • Believing that you can hear or see your deceased loved one
    • Constantly feeling angry and anxious
    • Feeling nothing at all (numbness)
    • Uncontrollable crying or not being able to cry at all
    • Going over every detail of the death in your mind and having ruminating thoughts about the last few days of your loved ones’ life
    • An inability to eat or sleep (or eating and sleeping too much)
    • Feeling as though you should be ‘over it’ but feeling worse than ever before

    Now that we have some idea of what Grief is let’s take a look at what Resilience means.

    What is Resilience?

    Ken Ginsburg Paediatrician, MD, developed the 7 Cs model of Resilience, which helps children and teens to be more resilient and happier.  

    According to Ginsburg, resiliency includes:

    • Competence: Having the competency to build skills which help children to trust their choices and judgements. Competence is the capability to handle situations effectively.
    • Confidence: Being confident translates back to the amount of competence a person builds over time—building trust through expressing assuredness in real-life scenarios.
    • Connection: Having a sense of belonging to friends, family, and community can help a child build rapport and develop a stronger sense of self.
    • Character: This relates to a child’s sense of morality and the ability to make the right choices and decisions. It also stems from a child’s contribution to society and self-purpose.
    • Contribution: The ability to contribute to the community correlates to children’s sense of worth and purpose. The feedback that a child receives by doing this cultivates relationships that are both positive and reciprocal.
    • Coping: Learning to cope with adverse situations such as the loss of a loved one, or the ending of a career is where people learn to cope with stress productively.
    • Control:  When someone develops an understanding of self-control, they put themselves in the position of problem-solver instead of the victim. When a person can master the art of controlling their emotions, they will develop the capacity to view themselves as confident and capable.   

    What does Resilience mean to you?

    How a person handles, adversity will be different from how their sibling or friend manages the same situation. Often in Grief, comparisons are made by the truckload. 

    If a parent dies, for example, one sibling might be unable to control their crying, while the other sibling mightn’t be able to cry at all. 

    There are no distinctions. And there are certainly no right and wrongs in Grief. 

    The stages of loss of a loved one 

    Unfortunately, when it comes to Grief, there is a silent belief that it is perfectly normal for people to cry, to curl up in a ball on the floor, not so ordinary when people can’t (for whatever reason) react in those ways.

    If Ginsburg’s 7 Cs model has any truth to it, then our reactions to Grief likely stems from how we build Resilience as children.

    For instance, the way a child learns to cope with a stressful situation might be in complete opposition to the way his or her classmate learned to cope. 

    How we perceive the world around us could be similar to how we solve the loss of a loved one.

    If a child learns from a young age that life is unfair, for example, this will be the self -fulfilling prophecy they carry through to adulthood and, crucially in the losses they incur throughout life.

    Therefore, the ability to recover from difficult life situations (such as loss) is unique for everyone.

    How Grief can help us build Resilience

    Dr William Doverspike, talks in his book: ‘’Grief: The journey from suffering to resilience’’ about the connection between Resilience and Grief. Doverspike explains that:

    ‘’One never really returns to his or her former self. Instead, one incorporates the experience into what eventually becomes a new self. Resolving requires working through Grief, which takes time. ‘’

    He also mentioned that doing the work in Grief eventually leads to resolution, recovery and Resilience.

    What does doing the work in Grief mean?

    According to Doverspike, there are three ways in which a person can start to resolve their Grief and begin to build Resilience. All this is done by:

    • Setting small and realistic goals: Ask anyone who has ever experienced Grief, and they will tell you that even the smallest of tasks can be exhausting, especially immediately after the loss. 

    Doverspike recommends grievers ask themselves each morning: ‘’What’s the one thing I know I can do today to help me move through my grief?’’

    • Avoiding seeing the crisis of the death of a loved one as an insurmountable problem: This may not be as easy as it sounds, as indeed losing a loved one in any capacity is a crisis.

    Experts suggest that grievers, instead of thinking about the crisis over and over, they should see themselves beyond the present by visualising how the future will be different. Noting the small ways in which you feel better is also an excellent way to keep track of how you handle difficult situations.

    • Seeking opportunities to rediscover yourself: Those who have overcome severe tragedy have reported a deeper appreciation for life, and a heightened level of spiritual awareness.

    Others have reported a greater sense of self-worth and gratitude for life in general. Many have also taken on projects that give them meaning – others have decided to travel the world. 

    Embarking on something new gives new meaning to our lives – helping us to heal and move forward.

    A final word on Resilience

    Fostering Resilience can allow grievers to identify ways of coping that work well for them by incorporating these mechanisms as a strategic response to the death of a loved one. 

    Through this, we learn how to build Resilience through Grief.

    Getting help

    Do you feel stuck in Grief? Then perhaps it’s time to reach out to a professional who can help you to identify your unique style of grieving, allowing you to move forward. 

    Contact the team at White River today and find out how we can help you in this transition. 

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