Dealing With Grief

Jill Fischer, mother of a Stallion, along with members of the SJHHS staff walk us through experiencing loss and grief in a healthy way.

What is grief if not love persevering? — Vision

Grief is the natural response to loss. It describes the emotional suffering one will endure following a loss. While it can be overwhelming and evoke feelings of hopelessness, grief is conquerable.

From a Therapist

Jill Fischer has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Child and Family Studies from Syracuse University, and continued schooling at University of New Hampshire where she earned a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). Fischer is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has been working with children couples and families for 25 years. 

Losing somebody that we love is one of the most painful and difficult things that most of us will experience in our lifetime. When it comes to advice for dealing with grief and loss, it is important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or perfect way to grieve and there are no rules or timelines for the grieving process,” said Fischer.

The Grieving Process 

The grieving process is a multi-step process and will be unique to every individual.  “The stages of grief are typically shock, denial, anger/guilt, pain/anxiety/depression, acceptance, [and] moving on,” said Lisa Cassarino, SJHHS academic advisor and school counselor intern. “Accept the stages of grief in any order.”  

“My best advice for dealing with grief and loss from both a psychological and personal standpoint would be [acknowledging that] the feeling of such a wave of intense emotions is normal. It shows just how much that special someone means to us and that when people talk about moving on, it does not mean forgetting,” said Fischer. “It is important to be patient with ourselves and allow ourselves the time to feel such intense emotion [and], that with time, that intense emotion will slowly fade and that we will be able to start learning how to live a full and happy life while, at the same time, remembering the person that you have lost.” 

Some ways to work through the grieving process are to “journal, meditate, pray; respect the process and know that the stages of grief is not linear; [and to] give yourself grace and allow yourself to have a pity party,” said SJHHS psychology teacher Kathy Boggio.

Honor the grief/loss; don’t stuff it or ignore it.

— Kathy Boggio

Experience With Grief

Throughout her life thus far, Fischer has had many experiences with loss. She recalls that, though she was still the same person between these times, each loss warranted a different and unique experience.

Every grieving experience will vary, much like your personal relationship with every person varies. 

“The sudden loss of one of my closest friends when I was 16, for example, was a very different type of grief than losing a great grandparent. And losing both my grandmother, who was also my best friend, and my brother within a year was a different experience altogether. None of them were right or wrong, but just what I needed at that time in order to process for myself and learn how to live a new normal,” said Fischer.

Everyone around you has their own unique experiences, whether or not we are aware of them. Boggio has several experiences to recall upon in which she experienced major loss. “We lost our son when he was 25 from Meningitis.  It was sudden and beyond devastating (still beyond devastating), [and I] survived the mass shooting at route 91, witnessed many die right next to me (that is also still beyond devastating),” said Boggio. 

Some things she shared to avoid when grieving is “becoming a ‘victim,’ believing that life doesn’t move forward, stuffing the pain, retreating from life, blame, anger, etc.”

Cassarino shared her experience of losing her paternal grandmother “the matriarch of [her] Italian family and represented consistency, stability, family bond, and safety as we gathered every Sunday at her house for dinner. Loss can be anything. Not going there every Sunday to spend time with my aunts, uncles, and cousins left a huge void in my life for a long time. 

I want people to know that grief is also about loss and comes in many forms (not always a death) and to recognize this fact can help people acknowledge that loss is hard and that the coping strategies above can help with any loss, not necessarily a death.”

Coping in a Healthy Way

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy and unhealthy coping methods. 

“Sometimes, in the midst of grief, we can become stuck in a cycle that is unhealthy for us mentally, emotionally, and physically. When this happens, it can prevent us from coping with grief in a way that helps us to move forward. Oftentimes, these negative coping mechanisms serve as distractions that help us to feel less pain in the short term but prevent us from healing and can actually make our stress worse,” said Fischer.

Examples of negative coping mechanisms can include anything from substance use to isolation from friends and family, procrastination to not eating enough, or just simply telling people you are “fine.” Oftentimes, we find it easier to feign adequacy than open up about our true feelings.  It is extremely helpful to “articulate how you are feeling by saying or drawing or screaming your feelings… ‘I am feeling so sad, I am feeling so angry, I am feeling frustrated, etc…’” (Cassarino).

“When emotion becomes so intense, it is important to be in situations where we can feel supported. Being with others and in a safe place is so important when experiencing such a wave of emotion. Taking care of something or someone else can also be a positive coping mechanism. Doing something kind for someone else, taking care of pets, or even doing a good deed can help to lessen some of the weight of such intense feelings,” said Fischer.

When dealing with emotions as strong as loss and grief, it is important to remember to take care of yourself. It is not selfish to take time for yourself amidst grieving. Basic self-care is critical during these kinds of times. The little things can prove to be difficult, like getting proper sleep, taking care of personal hygiene, and eating well and enough, or exercising, though they can prove to be difficult make a huge difference.

Self-awareness is especially important in times of grief. Knowing if and when seeking professional help is beneficial in times when “grief becomes disabling and significantly interferes with key roles at work, school, home; if you are engaging in self-destructive behaviors like thoughts of suicide, or engaging in substance abuse such as excessive drinking or use of medications or illegal drugs,” said Cassarino.

“Lastly, it can be so helpful to be intentional about what you say yes and no to. Say no to things that don’t serve you or drain your emotional bucket and say yes to things that fill your bucket in a healthy way,” said Fischer.

Helping Someone Who is Grieving

It can be hard to know exactly how to help the people you care about when they are grieving. Because everyone deals with loss differently, there is no perfect thing to do when trying to help someone.

“The most important thing that you can do for someone that you care about who is hurting is to simply be present for them and help them to bear the emotional pain of their loss. Being aware of the stages of grief can help so that you can better understand what they may be experiencing,” said Fischer.

It is important to acknowledge that you cannot take away someone’s pain during the grieving process, however, you can give them a safe place to experience their grief. “You don’t have to have all the answers or say the perfect thing,” said Fischer. Being there for the people you love, listening to what they have to say, “validating and normalizing their feelings and emotions, and allowing them to process their thoughts is such a wonderful gift.” 

For Parents and Guardians

Parents and any trusted adult can play an important role in helping their kids deal with grief or loss. Helping children or adolescents talk about and understand death and grief helps them cope more successfully. Adults need to first acknowledge to their child that they know the loss occurred and understand that it is affecting them,” said Cassarino.

When dealing with young, influential, and increasingly independent children and teens, support is the most important thing you can give, whether it be a shoulder to cry on or just offering to listen. 

“Be present and authentic with your child or student. Don’t be afraid to show your own emotion as an adult and express genuine concern

 Listen more and talk less. Children need space to talk and express themselves without judgment and unsolicited advice.

 Allow children to express their emotions and don’t tell them to ‘toughen up’ or ‘be strong.’ Don’t tell them how to feel.

Demonstrate empathy. Acknowledge that the event was difficult for them,” said Cassarino.

Moving On

“Honor the grief/loss; don’t stuff it or ignore it,” said Boggio.

Moving on is the last step of the grieving process. It is important to remember when reaching this phase that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. 

Grief is up and down …there will be happy days and the sudden sad days. Sometimes we feel guilty if we are happy or move on with our life because we think we are betraying the person if we are having fun. But one way to look at it is to dedicate those moments of joy to the person who died. That is the biggest honor you could give them,” said Cassarino.