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Grieving_boys.jpgFinding Peace: Coping with Grief and Loss 

Each and every one of us will probably experience the death or loss of a loved one.  We may experience the end of a relationship or divorce or we may experience the loss of our health or the loss of a job.  We may even experience the loss of financial stability or the loss of an unborn child.  We may possibly experience the loss of our freedom or know of someone who has.  Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about can feel very painful.  You may feel all kinds of difficult emotions that might feel unending but these are, in fact, normal reactions to loss and the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. Through all of our life experiences, we will most likely have to work through feelings of grief, sadness loss, anger, and despair.  These familiar feelings are symptoms of “grief.” Grief is a natural response to loss.  It is the emotional suffering we feel when someone or something we love is taken away. 

 Grief is an emotion that we experience in private within our African-American culture.  It is as if we are not permitted to display our emotions of sorrow and despair.  We mistakenly believe that a public display of our emotions or affections is somehow considered not socially etiquette.  We are praised for being emotionally controlled at our funerals, wakes, and repasts.  We may often be misperceived as “strong” and not permitted to show our vulnerability.  This is actually unfortunate because our strength rests in our ability and willingness to be authentically vulnerable, compassionate, and empathetic.  When we stifle our emotions we prohibit healthy coping with grief and loss and working through our sorrow in a validating and healing way.  We are a resilient and yes, it is okay to cry and show how we are really feeling so that we can get the support that we need to move on.  Receiving support is an act of loving kindness not pity. While we may not be able to control the losses in our lives, we can control how we chose to cope with our feelings of loss.  One of the key things we can do to begin to help ourselves is to recognize the symptoms of bereavement. 

How do I know if I am grieving?  You may be experiencing grief if you are experiencing the following symptoms: 

  • Shock and disbelief – Difficulty accepting the loss of your loved one; feeling numb, denying the truth and having difficulty believing that the loss really happened.
  • Sadness – Profound sadness, emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness.  You may also cry often and feel emotionally unstable.
  • Guilt – You may experience regret or feel guilty about things you did not say or do.  You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g., feeling relieved after a long, difficult illness)
  • Anger – You may feel angry at the loss even though it is no one’s fault.  You may feel abandoned by your deceased or lost loved one.  You may even have the urge to blame someone for the loss. 
  • Fear – Loss can bring about worries and fears.  You may experience anxiety, helplessness or insecurity.  You may even experience a panic attack and may stir up fears about your own mortality.  You may also fear facing life without your lost loved one and bear the responsibilities you now endure alone. 

As an African-American culture, we have historically denied mental health problems in ourselves, families, and communities.  This is most likely attributed to the stigma associated with emotional suffering and psychological functioning.  We must recognize that failure to address and treat these symptoms result in the growing disproportional representation of chronic illness like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in ourselves, families, and community.  However there are things we can do to help ourselves and each other. 

What can I do? 

  • Acknowledge your feelings and symptoms – Do not deny or avoid what you are feeling and experiencing
  • Self-disclose – Once you have acknowledged your symptoms, it is critical to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and  what symptoms you are experiencing
  • Seek therapy and professional counseling – Therapists are trained to counsel, guide, and support persons with grief, loss and depression.  They hold your confidences and cannot discuss your sessions with anyone as they are bound by law to keep your private and personal information confidential.

 What I should not do:

 Do not deny, minimize, or falsely justify your symptoms – Avoid the tendency to let shame, pride, and embarrassment overcome your good judgment to seek help

  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking weed – Alcohol and marijuana can worsen your symptoms as they both act as depressants
  • Do not listen to naysayers that dissuade you from seeking help – While our loved ones and friends have good intentions, do not allow yourself to be swayed into thinking that you will get over it on your own or that you are just going through a phase, or that you may be viewed as “crazy”.

 Where can I get help?


 Spiritual, Faith or Pastoral Counseling – If you are member of your church or faith practice, you can request pastoral counseling and/or seek support from your prayer circle or grief and loss support group.

  • Professional Counselors, Therapists, and Psychiatrists – If you know of a friend or loved-one who has benefited from counseling, ask them for referral.  If you have insurance, your coverage may include mental health services.  Look for a therapist in your insurance membership directory or speak with your primary care physician for a referral.   If you do not have insurance coverage, you can receive low-cost counseling from a non-profit agency or no-cost services from the County of Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. 

As a spiritual people and community of faith, our greatest gift is our life.  What better way to show and demonstrate our appreciation and love to our higher power and beloved deity by honoring our physical body temple and being proactive in taking care of our emotional and physical health.  Let’s take care of our family, friends, and community by first taking care of ourselves.

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