Bereavement Overload – Coping with multiple losses

Bereavement Overload – Coping with multiple losses

How does one cope with the death of more than one family member when these deaths occur within a short period of time? What happens to a person who grieves the death of a loved one, then loses a job and has to move out of their home or apartment due to financial circumstances? Multiple losses happen more often than most people realize, and they can complicate the grieving process.

To begin with, it is important to recognize that we grieve many life changes other than the death of a loved one. The severance of any close relationship, divorce, incarceration, geographic relocation, children going off to college, devastating fires, job changes, or the loss of family heirlooms can lead to a strong grief reaction. In most cases, these losses can lead to a cascade of emotional reactions as strong as those associated with the death of a loved one.

How can we cope with these huge changes or help someone who is experiencing more than one of these losses? Consider the following.

1. Recognize that people who have suffered multiple losses will usually need much more time to process their feelings and deal with their losses. Often the intensity of grief will be greater and the grieving person will need help prioritizing their needs in dealing with each loss one at a time.

2. Now more than ever, the person dealing with multiple losses needs trusted grief companions who will listen to the pain that is experienced and expressed. A great commitment is required on the part of caregivers who will not reduce their contact with the bereaved over time or make comparisons of one bereaved with another. Allowing grief to develop in the circumstances of multiple losses is a huge commitment for the caregiver.

3. If you suffer from multiple losses, be patient with yourself. You cannot expect a quick resolution of all the changes that need to be addressed. There will be some trial and error moments and you will have to sit down and try another approach when one plan doesn’t work. Do not hurry. Easier said than done, of course, when you’re in pain. But that’s why you need people who can be around the pain.

4. It’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. Self-care is an absolute priority, as the energy drain from repeated loss is extremely high. Schedule a period of rest each day, preferably in nature, where birds, trees, water, and other wildlife can remind you of the importance of connections and tranquility that will recharge your mind and body. And above all, walk, walk, walk.

5. Never forget: you are not punished. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking like “I’m getting what I deserve” or “This is what happens when you don’t do the right thing.” Such negative thinking only adds to unnecessary suffering and distracts from facing the new life that multiple losses dictate. Remember: this type of thinking has a big impact on your physical self as well as your emotional well-being.

6. Keep telling yourself that you will get through this dark night of the soul. It’s hell and it’s so painful, but you’re a survivor who will use the support and insight of others to adjust and start over. You are normal even though everything feels so abnormal. There’s nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed. Anyone would be. Keep training yourself to persevere – it will make a big difference.

7. Feelings and thoughts change and new ones will emerge in your mind and body in the long run. Look for permanent support structures. They can be close friends, a grief support group (many members are dealing with multiple losses), a clergy member, or a professional grief counselor. The information you need to deal with your particular circumstances is there. Half the battle is finding the people who can offer an idea or two that you’ve yet to hear.

8. Also, even though you are overwhelmed with pain and anxiety, don’t give up listening to the best source of all – your own wisdom. You have it inside right now so you know what to do. You are much more capable than you think.

When you are alone in the evening, ask yourself (or God, your Higher Power, even your deceased loved one) for insights to deal with a particular problem. Then listen very carefully to what thoughts or images come into your mind. You essentially know what is needed better than anyone else. The trick is to tap into your inner wisdom with confidence.

To summarize, many people suffer from multiple losses and the resulting bereavement overload. While multiple losses tend to exacerbate the length and intensity of the grieving process, breaking down and prioritizing where to begin dealing with so many changes (both internal and external) is the place to start.

It is painstaking and painful work, but success in adapting to multiple changes will happen gradually. Keep your self-talk positive (we are often our own worst enemy), allow a relapse or two, but know that you can survive these massive changes and get through your demanding trial.

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