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Grief must be experienced and processed

Change is inevitable and I’ve been through my share of change in just a few years. I try to roll with it, and am mostly successful. Sometimes I rock it, sometimes it takes a little longer to turn the ship, even a few degrees.

A friend and I were recently enumerating changes she had experienced over the past year: A separation, which included moving out of her house and finding somewhere to live, packing up a lifetime of belongings, while sorting out the memories and emotions associated with the life change she was experiencing. Finalizing the details of a divorce, while again, sorting through the emotions of such an event. Other changes included selling off some larger assets and looking for a permanent home, finding that house to buy and moving all her belongings into that new space.

There were so many more changes, which perhaps to most people, were less traumatic to her, but I can tell you, they were all traumatic. Each apparently small change had a big impact, as the cumulative number of changes she was going through individually, added up. To date, I don’t think she has felt the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, but not because it hasn’t been there: no, it’s because of her faith and support from family and friends.

Perhaps the first thing to realize is that change can often bring on grief, which also must be addressed. I heard a long time ago that every time we experience a change -- in a job, people leaving our lives whether through promotion, a move to another state or death, moving to a new home, everything, causes grief.

As I’ve moved through my life, I can say that I have felt the effects of nearly every change in my life. Of course, some emotions associated with the changes were rather mild and I passed through the grieving process quickly. Others I felt more profoundly and I had to go through the emotions of it much longer. But no matter, if you are in tune with your feelings, you will notice that you will go through a grief process with change.

There are five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance -- which we all go through, in varying degrees -- and sometimes we visit one or more of the stages multiple times before we feel we have moved through the emotions and are thriving.

Recently, I heard some professional say that we never get over grief. It is always there, under the surface, ready to gut punch us with a recalled memory, smell or visual, anything that will put us back in that sad moment in time. I don’t know if I can accept that personally, but I can say I know some people are more likely to feel the impact of the change far longer than others.

I have another friend who suddenly lost her soul mate to an aneurysm more than a decade ago, on her birthday. She doesn’t find the day happy anymore and doesn’t want to be wished a happy birthday -- the most devastating of life events happened to her and she doesn’t find the day worth celebrating anymore.

Yet I want to acknowledge, both her birthday and her loss each year: I feel it would be far more insensitive of me to not offer some recognition of the day.

I hit upon the perfect words somehow one year and now offer some variation of that phrasing each year. She knows I’m thinking of both her birthday and the death, and appreciates hearing from me.

When I started this column, I thought I would write about coping with change, however, I wondered to a related subject that I’ve been feeling rather heavily myself lately.

I know of several people close to me and in my circle of acquaintances who have experienced the two worst losses I can imagine -- their spouse and a child.

My heart goes out to them and I said a prayer for strength when specific dates, including the holidays, were near.

Sometimes I wonder, with all the sadness that can accumulate in our hearts for our own life changes and loss, as well as that for others, how we can be happy…

That’s really why we have to balance the good with the bad, I guess, and always be on the lookout for people and activities that make us feel good.