Emotional Healing: What Is Grief And Loss?

By Dr. Ted Wiard
Golden Willow Retreat

Editors Note: This is the third in a series by grief specialist Dr. Ted Wiard, dedicated to helping educate the community about emotional healing.

Grief and loss have come to be rather synonymous with one another and can be misunderstood in the collective understanding. Let me help clarify the difference between loss and grief and define the grief process.

Loss happens all the time and there are many different kinds of loss. Loss is any time your understanding of you and the world around us has changed from how we used to perceive these aspects. From any type of loss, you have the opportunity to consciously grieve.

Grief is the process in which you redefine yourself into the present situation by integrating your historical definitions into the who you have become today due to your loss. This is done through the grief process which has different phases that you move back and forth through as you heal from your loss.

Society has used the work of Kübler-Ross to give touchstones within the ebbs and flows of grief. Grief is not linear so as you read these, please remember that it is more like a stew in which you can be in many different phases at the same time, as well as moving back and forth through the different markers of grief. Over the next few articles, I will break down the phases of grief. This article will take a quick look at the first two phases of grief, denial and anger.  

Denial – I like to think of denial as insulation, this is you putting some distance, physically or psychologically, between you and your loss. Denial gives time for your cognitive and emotional realms to realign. After a loss you may at first not even believe it has happened, and over time you ebb and flow as you integrate the loss into your being. Denial can also lead to other behaviors to avoid the issue at hand, as a distraction from the loss. Denial is not bad and can keep you alive. The more you are conscious of denial the less chance you may fall into behaviors that could be hurtful to you or others, instead find healthy ways as you move in and out of levels of denial.

Anger – Anger is common within loss and if you think of it as a protest this may be more accurate at times. It is your emotional world protesting that you have loss and are having to change from your former norm to a new norm. Anger is an emotional response to something and let’s our brain know that things are not how they used to be, sending a message to our body that it needs to be on high alert. There may be a hormonal response, adrenals kick in and your body is ready for action, even though you are exhausted and worn out. Emotionally anger is the protest of something that has changed. You may be angry at a person, a situation, politics, cancer, yourself or anything else that comes to mind. Anger is not bad and you cannot control the emotions and thoughts that arise within you, but on a good day, you can control your behaviors! Refined anger can become the fuel of passion as you heal. In the next article we will look at bargaining and depression. 

I wish you well. Until next week, take care.  

Grief Support Group is available 5:30-7.p.m. Thursdays, beginning March 12 in Room 311 at United Church. It is a drop-in group for people experiencing all kinds of grief. For information, contact Lori Padilla, LMHC at 505.795.5723.                                     

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com or call 575.776.2024.