Wellness Wednesday: Resilience through grief and loss
The words grief and loss tend to be associated with the end of life — the death of a family member or beloved friend. While these may be the most significant forms of grief and loss, we experience similar emotions during other times of change, as well and, when we do, the feelings can be overwhelming.
Over the last seven months, members of our care teams have witnessed the severe illness and deaths of patients isolated from loved ones, and some faculty and staff have experienced illness and death within their own families.
During the same time, many aspects of our lives have come to a crashing halt. Special life events were canceled, put on hold or took on a whole different look and feel than we had previously imagined — weddings delayed, graduation ceremonies canceled or held virtually, long-awaited trips and family reunions postponed indefinitely.
Seemingly overnight, we went from our normal lives to the loss of social connections, daily routines and simple comforts like the hug from a friend. Enduring months of so much loss can make it difficult to maintain a positive outlook.
“In times of trauma and adversity, we often focus on what has been lost, and rightfully so,” said Jillian Dronfield, LMSW, faculty and staff counselor for the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience. “While it’s important to acknowledge the impact of what has happened, it is equally vital to focus on the good that remains.”
Quoting Lucy Hone, Ph.D., author of Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything, Dronfield offered this advice: “Don’t lose what you have to what you have lost.”
In the most recent episode of the “Short Takes” Reflect & Recharge video series, Dronfield talked about resilience through times of grief and loss and said a helpful strategy can be to compare life’s ups and downs to the ocean.
Anticipate the waves
“At times the ocean roars with tsunamis and tidal waves that thrash and wear us out. At other times, the waves are rolling and gentle, predictable yet relentless,” said Dronfield. “We do not doubt the large waves will come but we also know they will subside.”
In much the same way, we know that loss is a part of life. We have experienced it before, we are living through it now, and we will undoubtedly experience painful losses in the future. Preparing for loss and accepting that it is a natural part of life can help.
During times of grief and loss, Dronfield suggested thinking about your strengths and focusing on them to bring you healing.
Can you focus on your curiosity to learn and grow? Do you gain strength through kindness to others? Can the persistence you’ve used to achieve desired goals help you now to look ahead with optimism and determination for a brighter future?
She also suggested thinking about people you can turn to for support if needed — a partner or spouse, parent, trusted colleague or friend.
“It can sometimes be easier to talk with someone outside of your immediate circle,” she said. “If that’s the case, you can seek out counseling services for additional support.”
Find solace beneath the surface
When the waves of life become too much, Dronfield said we can find calm beneath the surface.
“We can let go of suffering briefly and focus on comforting ourselves in a quiet moment, finding our center and letting this define us, rather than our losses,” she said.
Think about where and how you can find solace, whether through admiring nature, seeking inspiration in the words of a favorite author or taking the time to just breathe, meditate or listen to calming music.
Bask in the gifts of the sea
Finally, Dronfield said it’s important to seek out the gifts left behind during times of grief and loss, like a broken but still beautiful sea shell, or patterned lines in the sand left behind by the crashing waves.
She suggested taking time to think about the good that has come from loss. During the pandemic, have you started a new tradition with loved ones at home, or discovered fun new ways to stay virtually connected with friends or colleagues? Have you found simplicity in your life that you can appreciate and build upon to eliminate stress?
Moving forward and finding ways to cope, Dronfield said it is important to acknowledge loss. And if the sense of loss and change feel overwhelming, she suggested reaching out for help.
“We can all use support when we struggle with grief and loss,” she said. “With a little help, we can find validation, new perspectives and ways to cope from within ourselves.”
In closing, Dronfield offered another quote, this one from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a pioneer in the mindfulness tradition: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”