Dealing with grief

By: Arthur Wenk , Sep 06, 2012

I recently lost my mother and I'm having difficulty controlling my emotions at work. What can I do?

Grief encompasses not only sadness but anger, anxiety or depression.

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s such a profound part of being a mammal that even animals have been seen to exhibit grief. For animals grief comes with the loss of partner or offspring. Human grief extends much further. We may experience grief over the loss of a job, a divorce, a financial reverse, or not getting into university. We may tend to repress our feelings in such circumstances, telling ourselves to “suck it up,” or “it’s only [fill in the blank].” But grief is a feeling we need to attend to.

For most people the source of deepest grief is the death of a loved one. We have probably heard of the “stages of grief” and we may even worry that we aren’t following them in the proper order. But grief is individual: we respond to loss in different ways and should accept those differences. 

Grief is normal. Unfortunately we live in a society that doesn’t like what it considers to be “negative” emotions. You don’t get much if any time off work to cope with a divorce or a severe disappointment. Even mourning the death of a loved one must be achieved quickly. After a couple of months you’re expected to “achieve closure” and “get on with life,” whereas the process may easily last a year or more. 

For we live in cycles of celebrations, each of which now must be experienced in the absence of parent, partner or child. This is the first Christmas without my husband; this is the first Mother’s Day without a being able to send my mother a card. Moreover, we never truly “get over” a loss. We may find that our grief diminishes with each passing month only to be triggered unexpectedly into a paroxysm of sadness.

Individual responses to loss may take many forms. Grief encompasses not only sadness but anger, anxiety or depression. Unresolved grief compounds itself: we may have thought we were coping with one loss but a new loss, even one that doesn’t seem so important in itself, may leave us devastated. 

Time usually assuages grief, but suppose you find yourself weeping unexpectedly at work or feeling too blue to deal with everyday tasks? You need to manage the symptoms of your emotions. Here’s how: set aside a period of time each day—it’s up to you to decide when and for how long—for actively feeling your emotions. Eventually your emotional mind will understand: “Just hang on until seven o’clock and I’ll listen with all my attention.” When the appointed time arrives, talk out your feelings to your journal, your dog, a friend, your spouse, yourself (or if that seems too strange, talk to a pillow or stuffed animal). Do this every day and you will develop the emotional discipline to be sensitive to your feelings without being overwhelmed by them.

Arthur Wenk holds a doctorate in musicology and masters degrees in information science, music theory, and psychology.

Art‘s client-centered approach is based on empathic listening, helping clients integrate thoughts, feelings and actions, and assisting them to revise self-stories that have kept them enmeshed in problems: all in the interest of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual wholeness.

Art currently practices at Wilson Counselling Associates in Oakville, Ontario.