Helping Your Loved One Overcome Grief and Loss

Grief and loss is a process that, unfortunately, everyone goes through. This is a phenomenon that has crept into my life just recently, but as an outsider looking in. My father-in-law died about a month ago and it has shaken our whole family, but more particularly my husband.

My husband and his dad were emotionally close, close enough that I believe they saw each other every day. Even though my father in law was on hospice for 5 months, my husband wasn’t ready for the impact that hit him when he passed. The grief and loss that my husband has been feeling has been insurmountable to the point that he can’t work and has attached himself to unhealthy coping strategies.

Over the past month, I have been caught up in wanting to make him “feel better” and desperate to have our lives move on. But what I have come to accept is that this isn’t my journey to fix and that it is acceptable for the grieving process to last longer than a month, and probably in my case, months until my husband “accepts” that his father is no longer here with him. There are a lot of books that focus on how to get through grief, but I haven’t found a book on how to assist the “outsiders” close to the person who is dealing with the grief.

In my situation, there is a feeling of helplessness and guilt because you don’t feel as miserable as they do even though you are trying to help them climb out of it.  Grief can come in small packages as well, and this is what I witness every day at Sunrise when I interact with our teenage girls.

Grief can look like being in a new environment for an extended period of time and grieving over the loss of friends, family, and schedule. This is often the most common example and something our staff have to help our girls through. A student that I have become quite close to went through her grieving process for about 4 months until she was able to accept that she was here at Sunrise to get better. This student went through every stage of grief:

Denial: “I’m not going to be here very long, my parents will realize that this isn’t the place for me.” In my case with my husband, this stage didn’t last very long because he had physical evidence that he father had died, but for our students they cling to hope of wanting their predicament to change. As a supporter, this is the stage where we work to ground our loved ones on what has happened and what is real. This can be a very frustrating place.

Anger: “This can’t be happening to me! I hate my parents for making me come here and ruining my life!” This is currently where my husband resides in his journey. He understands that his dad is gone but is angry at his higher power for “allowing” this to happen and angry at himself because he feels like he could have done more to prevent it. With our students, this is an exhausting part of the process because often times, the student hasn’t taken accountability for their part of having to come to Sunrise and chooses to blame others. As supporters, this is the stage that unconditional love is important and that even through all the hateful and unfair words or actions that they may show, we are here and will be here when they are ready to accept and push forward. For me, I’ve learned that all I can do is listen, not take things personally, and be available.

Bargaining: “I will tell my parents that if they take me home, I promise to go to an outpatient program and I won’t hang out with my old friends.” Often times this is where our students will try to show that they are “fixed” and that they are good enough to go home with what they have already learned. This is where therapeutic interventions come into play that will push them to understand that they can’t do things on their own and that the change that they assume they have made isn’t going to last. As a supporter, honesty and tough love is important because they aren’t willing to see that there is still a lot of painful work to do.

Depression: The student refuses to get out of bed and go to school or go to therapy. She is feeling hopeless. This is the phase where our students feel like they should give up and that the people around them have given up as well. At Sunrise, our staff do a lot of processing, trying to help the student understand how they got here and that they are still worth love and acceptance. I know that when my husband gets to this phase he will feel like he “failed” his dad and that I will need to be there to help him understand that he did everything he could and that it isn’t his fault.

Acceptance: “I have accepted that I am here at Sunrise and will start working on level work and participating in family therapy AND I still wish I was home.” I think this phase can be misunderstood because often times people who aren’t involved think that the person dealing with the grief should be happy and not feel any pain over the circumstances. I think that a person can accept what is happening to them and still be grieving. I know my husband will grieve for the rest of his life but I know when he gets to this stage he will be able to get up out of bed in the morning and look himself in the mirror. Our students here at Sunrise will always wish to be home but they will have gotten to the place that they understand why their parents made the decision to place them at Sunrise and that it isn’t acceptable to go backward, only forwards. This is the beginning of lasting change and where our staff can really help guide them to wanting to lead happier and healthy lives. This is where the supporter can take a breath and relax just a little, but where the support will really be beneficial.

I know there are parents and friends who wonder if their loved ones will ever get through “this” and if they are doing what is right to help. The only thing I would say is yes. Yes, you are doing the right thing because you are doing something. And that is enough.

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