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Tragic events trigger lessons in coping with loss

Editor's note: Residents in the Douglas county area have had to endure several sudden tragedies in recent weeks. Since Thanksgiving, motor vehicle crashes have claimed the lives of six men living in Alexandria, Lowry, Osakis and Brandon. Lynndene Way of Alexandria, a chaplain serving several local businesses through Chaplains Caring for Companies, shared the following information on dealing with the pain of grief and loss.

By Lynndene Way

When you face a loss, waves of feeling, called grief, act as your natural "healing" response. You can cope with loss by recognizing it, understanding the waves of grief, and getting support during the grieving process, knowing that grief does eventually subside.

After a loss, you may experience a variety of difficult feelings, making grief seem almost overwhelming at times.

Struggling against the wave of grief is natural. You may be tempted to suppress or mask the pain of grief, but pretending that you don't care about your loss or that it never happened only prolongs the time it takes to resolve it.

The grief process follows a natural course that builds and, ultimately, recedes. But waves of grief, with emotional, physical, and mental undercurrents, can wash over you for some time. Normal physical reactions to grief can include insomnia or needing more sleep than usual, loss of appetite, chest or throat tightness, weakness, lack of energy, and breathlessness or sighing.

Mentally, you may feel fearful, preoccupied (especially about the loss), anxious, confused, foggy or forgetful. Long after, you may still find it hard to concentrate fully. If such symptoms don't subside after a time, you may want to seek professional consultation or assistance.

You can help yourself in a number of ways while you grieve. Because grief can be exhausting, taking care of yourself is important. Pay special attention to your need for rest and nourishment while you're grieving. Some people find that gentle exercise also helps relieve the pent-up feelings and stress of grief. Put unrelated stressful decisions on hold, at least initially, and don't' force yourself to do things that feel uncomfortable. Instead, set small goals that you can realistically achieve.

Allow yourself time alone or with others as you need it. Telling others how you feel helps you to recognize and accept your loss. Others who have weathered grief can reassure you that you're not alone. Choose as listeners people you trust or who have supported you in the past. The best listeners are ones who won't be uncomfortable with strong emotions or suggest that you should be "over it by now."

For some people, the emotional after-shocks appear immediately after the traumatic event. Sometimes they may appear a few hours or a few days later. And, in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear.

The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months (and occasionally longer), depending on the severity of the traumatic event. With the support and understanding of loved ones the stress reactions usually pass more quickly.

Occasionally the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance from a counselor may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness; it simply indicates that the event was too powerful for the person to manage by himself or herself. Contact a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist through your health care provider, local clergy or chaplain or a peer counselor to listen and assist you in contacting the appropriate professional agency to help you in your healing process.