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Avoid The Common Traps Of Grief

By Suzanne Quinn

Anyone who has lost a loved one or someone close to them can understand the pain of grief. We too, understand that pain. We are two women- Andrea Brunswick and Suzanne Quinn- both life coaches, who have both experienced great losses of loved ones. Suzanne has lost her grandfather, both grandmothers and finally her father- the most painful loss. Andrea lost her grandfather, her father at young age and-all within seven months- lost both of her husband's grandmothers, her father-in-law and the most crushing- her husband. When talking about grief, we have both lived through it and understand the pain, the dysfunction and the common traps into which we can fall.

In 2007, there were 235,217 deaths in Canada alone and this figure is expected to increase due to our aging "Baby Boomer" population. For each death, countless friends and family members are affected. Of these deaths in 2007, many people affected are likely still grieving, some may have healed to the best of their abilities and some may still have that grief bottled up in their sub-conscious- unwilling to confront it.

The first thing you must understand is that it is okay to grieve. What does grief mean? Grief is the extreme sadness felt when you lose someone or something that is important to you. You might feel as though you are insane. You might feel like a freak. Grief is usually, but not necessarily, associated with death but there are other causes of grief. You can grieve after a divorce. You can grieve the loss of a lifelong friendship. You can grieve after losing your job.

Perhaps you have heard of the term "The Five Stages of Grief". They are commonly known as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This was first introduced by psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Over the years this theory has evolved and often is largely misunderstood. Although there is merit in this idea- we believe that grief is a personal journey and is therefore different for everyone. It is too personal to be rigidly defined into perfectly progressive stages. Not everyone may feel each one of those "stages," or may not feel them in the order that is presented. The length of each "stage" is different for each of us as well. We need to stop categorizing our grief. Society has a way of putting expectations on us in terms of when and how we should be moving on and particularly with regard to the length of time that has passed since we suffered the loss.

For example, it has been three years since the death of Suzanne's father. For the first year, people were generally sympathetic to his family. It is socially acceptable and expected for people to grieve that first year of milestones. After that, people expect you to "get over it" and move on with your life, making like it never happened. The commonly referred to "five stages" can feed into these expectations that people have for those who are grieving.

You must allow yourself to grieve your loss. What does that mean? To us, it means allowing yourself to feel those emotions, no matter how intense they may be. Allow yourself to feel sad, lonely, depressed, like you're losing your mind, angry, bitter, resentful and any other emotions you may feel upon suffering a loss. It is okay to have these feelings. Do not fear those emotions, do not run from them. Not allowing yourself to feel these emotions- to "grieve" properly- leads you into falling into one of the common traps.

Traps can include a variety of destructive behaviors: avoidance, misunderstanding, reliance on pharmaceuticals, loss of control, addictions and retail therapy, just to name a few. Even if you don't turn to any of these destructive means of coping, stifling your emotions will only leave the problem buried deep within your subconscious, only to affect other areas of your life, continuously resurfacing with each new challenge faced.

When Suzanne's father passed away she still had her law practice to run. She felt as though she did not want to be anywhere- not at work, not at home, not among people- just alone. The shopping mall was a perfect escape. Purchases gave a brief adrenaline rush that felt good, but was fleeting. This retail therapy only served to avoid the pain she faced and was damaging to her finances as well. Through her coaching with Andrea, she began to discover that her shopping mall excursions were a result of her avoidance to grief. The clich that "you can run but you can't hide" certainly rang true. With this new awareness, she learned to embrace her grief and began attending a bereavement group.

Andrea, too found herself drowning in one of the common traps of grief. Four years after Andrea's loss of her father, she sought out treatment from a psychiatrist who identified her problem as depression in their first session. The cause of her depression was never identified or even explored. She was prescribed Prozac, as that was the "hot drug" in the late 1980's. Andrea followed her doctor's advice and took her prescription, only for her depression to deepen. She spent much time crying, holding her father's picture and spiralling deeper and deeper into her despair. It was not long before she attempted to take her own life by taking the whole bottle of anti-depressants and ended up in the hospital. Even then, not one mental health professional identified the cause of her depression as grief. It was not until years later did Andrea realize the cause of her depression was grief and that it was holding her hostage because she never properly grieved her father's death.

Talk about your grief. Seek the support that you need and deserve- whether your loss was last month, last year or twenty years ago. Give yourself permission to feel the pain and the loss. Attend a bereavement group, or seek out a counselor. Stop avoiding, and stop expecting for it to just go away. Disregard those common expectations that the loving- yet ignorant- people put on you because "so much" time has passed. Loss is unavoidable, therefore, grieving is unavoidable. Don't run from it, embrace it. Here's to your journey.

The Empowering Angels coach individuals through their personal journeys in grief confrontation It is about healing. It is only when one is healed that they can then learn to fully embrace the next chapter in their lives. At this point, the coaching becomes very exciting, both for us and the client as we witness individuals progressively learn to manage the pain and learn to live again.

The Empowering Angels provide a complete toolkit to take control and transform of your life, offering the sound emotional support of an experienced life coach, Andrea Brunswick and the professional legal and practical guidance from Suzanne Quinn, a seasoned lawyer. Joining forces to form Empowering Angels, Brunswick and Quinn have taken their personal pain and loss and transformed it into a toolkit for the success and fulfillment of themselves and others.

"Let your tears come. Let them water your soul." - Eileen Mayhew

Embrace the pain of loss for a healthy journey forward


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