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Understanding and Overcoming Grief — How Coping Skills Can Help Navigate the Long Journey from Brokenness to Healing

By: Integrity Home Care + Hospice

Grief. It’s an incredibly powerful emotion—and unless it’s one you’ve experienced yourself, it can feel almost impossible to put into words or fully understand. At Integrity Home Care & Hospice, our bereavement team works tirelessly with our bereaved families, helping each grieving individual learn which coping skills are necessary to lead them through the long journey from brokenness to healing.

Understanding Grief

One of the first steps to overcoming grief, is understanding grief—not an easy task. Integrity Home Care Bereavement Coordinator, Doug Delp, explains that it can be helpful in this situation to draw comparisons between the emotions of grief and infatuation—because, while many of us may not be familiar with or have experienced grief first-hand, most of us are fairly acquainted with infatuation. And while they can be considered opposites on the scale of emotion, Delp explains that they are also very similar in that, “They are both very real and frequently overwhelming.  But while infatuation is an emotion that leans on us to make decisions while blinded to dangerous realities, grief is an emotion that leans on us to make decisions while blinded to hopeful opportunities.” 

The Blinding Lies of Grief

There are two main ways that Delp believes unchecked grief can blind us to hope for the future: 

  1. By attempting to convince us that it will never get better now that our loved one is not physically with us, and, 
  2. By attempting to convince us that since no one really understands our feelings, there’s no reason to talk to anyone about how we feel.  

Added together, these ‘lies’ can cause the urge to pull away, to become reclused—which then leads to an almost paralyzing feeling of aloneness. And whether this grief is felt by an in-home care patient as a result of a decline in health and subsequent transition to a higher level of care, or felt by the family of a hospice patient as they anxiously anticipate the death of a loved one, the last thing anyone should do is go at it alone. 

But unfortunately, as Delp recognizes—many who are currently in these later-in-life health situations are a product of generations that believe “we can do anything we put our minds to,” which further reinforces a desire to ‘fix-it’ or cope with it on their own, often then resulting in the development of negative coping skills. 

Negative Coping Skills—Aka: ‘Grief Triage’

While all ‘coping skills’ do arguably help you cope, not all are considered healthy. Negative and/or destructive coping skills involve reliance on habits that are numbing or distracting. They should be thought of as a triage of sorts for your grief, i.e. they may stop the immediate bleeding, or numb the sudden pain for a short while, but they have very little genuine healing abilities in the long run. 

Some examples of negative coping habits are:

  • Over-working
  • Focusing only on the needs of your children
  • Isolation
  • Constantly telling others you “are fine”
  • Seeking distractions

These coping skills may not seem to be problematic in the beginning—in fact, some could be absolutely necessary for survival (remember our ‘triage’ example?) But, in a prolonged state, not only are these habits physically and mentally exhausting to maintain, they also prevent you from fully facing and processing your emotions and may lead to a greater chance of self-isolation and feelings of hopelessness. 

Integrity Home Care Bereavement Coordinator, Debbie Nateghi, notices the effects of prolonged negative coping in many of those she counsels. “In my line of work as a Bereavement Coordinator, I find myself counseling those who seem to have lost hope when a loved one dies. When we lose hope it’s a very scary place to be.”

This is where healthy coping habits can step in and take your grief from the triage stage, to the ‘treatment’ stage.

What Are ‘Healthy Coping Skills?”

Healthy coping skills are those that promote open discussion and exploration of your feelings, as opposed to the suppression and denial of those feelings when we engage in negative coping skills. One way that Nateghi encourages this shift is by discussing with the bereaved ways in which they might ever consider their personal trials as possibly for good and God’s glory, or to consider their grief and suffering as an opportunity for the church to minister to them, or for family to draw closer together. 

Some additional examples of healthy coping skills are:

  • Finding someone who listens (both within family, and in the community).
  • Finding something to believe (understanding how your personal beliefs have shaped your grief experience).
  • Finding something to do—giving your life new purpose.
  • Remaining connected to others — reflecting on lessons learned from others and identifying lessons you would like to share with others.
  • Recognizing people who have demonstrated selfless love, and understanding how you can do the same for others.
  • Becoming aware of resources like books, websites, organizations, support groups that can help you feel ‘un-stuck’. 

Adopting healthy coping skills can bring hope back into focus for the grieving, which is why it remains one of our constant focuses as we support patients and families struggling with realities of life-limiting illnesses requiring in-home care.  

Integrity Home Care + Hospice Brings You Hope

Integrity Home Care + Hospice is passionate about helping families remain together in the comforts of their own home for as long as possible. If you believe you or a loved one may benefit from any of our in-home care or hospice services, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or contact us. We’ll guide you through the next immediate steps and we’ll stay right there with you—all along the way.

Middle aged woman grieving for a loved one