Grief and loss

By Mary Ruth Branstetter, LCSW, LCAC, RPT

Youth First

Grief is one of the most intense, sacred, painful and intimate emotions humans are capable of feeling. Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one, be that a family member or a close personal friend. For some, especially children, grief can also be associated with the death of a family pet; as that is often their first experience with death. Sometimes people use the words death and loss interchangeably, but loss can also mean the loss of something of importance or value to someone other than another human being.

Loss may be associated with something as simple and inane as a favorite pen given to you by your favorite uncle; or loss may be not having a normal academic year or athletic season. I am sure you can see the many different directions and roles loss may take on for adults, teens and children. With loss, there is also grief. This simple fact is often overlooked or briefly sidestepped.

Grief will only be overlooked or sidestepped for a certain amount of time before it catches up with you and knocks the wind out of you, blows you over and smacks you in the face; in other words, before it gets your attention. That is the power of grief. There is no way around it. You have to go through it to heal from it.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross, one of the pioneers who researched and studied grief, identified five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Although others have added to Kubler Ross’ work over the years, it remains one of the gold standards. 

It is important to remember that for adults, children, teens, tweens or whatever category you describe, no one goes through these stages in a nice neat order. It is also important to remember that each stage may look different depending on your age group. Sadness/depression may look like acting out for a child. Also, completing the stages once does not mean you will not revisit one or more of the stages again at certain times in your life. 

This is especially true around special anniversary dates and/or holidays. These are just a few of the reasons why grief is such a powerful emotion and must be dealt with (i.e. experienced), not ignored. It will find a way to make its presence in your life know emotionally, mentally, physically and/or spiritually.

It is important to reach out to others for help, be it friends, family, pastoral or professional help such as a therapist or counselor. It is okay to cry. Do not be afraid to let others know you are hurting. Your vulnerability may be a gift to someone else who is feeling the same way but too scared or hurt to share their pain. Remember, there is no timeline on grief or loss, especially in our new age of normal.

Mary Ruth Branstetter, LCSW, LCAC, RPT, serves as Youth First social worker at St. Joseph School in Vanderburgh County and St. Wendel School in St. Wendel.