Resilience Psychology and Coping with Grief

Finding Hope after Facing Loss

Grief Dr. Arielle Schwartz

At some point in our lives all have had to or will have to confront the loss of a loved one.  When facing the death of a loved one we can feel disoriented, uprooted, and isolated. Sometimes, the loss doesn’t feel real, we feel lost in the dark, or we feel as though the grief will never end. This post shares a very personal loss and offers tools for coping with bereavement.

“My husband and I were married less than a year. We had plans. I was applying for my doctorate in clinical psychology and we were talking about the timing of our first child. Then tragic loss changed everything.  The call came in the middle of the night. A helicopter had gone down during a routine mission and my husband’s brother (a military pilot) was aboard…”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

My Story of Grieving into Grace

Photo of Wooden bench with "Forever Loved" carved in back

My husband and I were married less than a year. We had plans. I was applying for my doctorate in clinical psychology and we were talking about the timing of our first child. Then tragic loss changed everything. The call came in the middle of the night. A helicopter had gone down during a routine mission and my husband’s brother (a military pilot) was aboard.

There were no immediate answers for several days. Waiting involved packing and coordinating a flight in the early morning, shock that ran cold through my body, and an exhausting day gathering with family members trying to make sense of all that happened.

Then the news…all ten men died in the crash on February 22nd, 2002 at 2:03 in the morning. No survivors. As if in a dream I went through the memorial with my husband who lost his brother, my mother-in-law who lost her son, and my in-laws. The last time I had seen all of these people we were celebrating at our wedding only nine-months earlier.

What becomes of our well-formed plans? Do they make sense anymore? My husband and I turned towards each other after his brother’s death and consciously decided to delay trying to get pregnant. “Let’s grieve first and then grow our family” we said.  However, life had other plans. Three months later I was pregnant. Pregnancy and grief are a strange combination.

My disorientation continued when we were told that my first child’s due date was the anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death.

Overwhelm. Fear. Excitement. The feelings were fast, complex, confusing; and I was sicker than I’d ever felt in my life for nearly the entire pregnancy. One day I was so sick that I felt like a wild animal. I couched in the corner of a backyard, my body rejecting any food. Coping with loss involved seeking help.

I couldn’t sort through these feelings on my own. I told my story again and again to those who would listen. I returned to therapy. My body was my teacher. If I avoided my grief I was sicker. To get relief from the debilitating physical distress I turned towards the emotional pain. Both became more manageable.

I painted and wrote. Overtime life started to make sense again. I found new strength and an awakened sense of my own presence and purpose. I decided to proceed with my plans to get my doctoral degree. I took life day by day.

Indeed, I did go into labor on the one year anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death but my daughter arrived early the next morning. Her birth moment was February 23rd, 2003 at 3:02. She had her own day, a new day.

Resilience for Grief and Loss

Gratitude Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Resilience psychology is about a mindset that allows you to adapt and even grow in response to loss and painful or traumatic life events. Research on resilience shows us the behaviors and beliefs that are associated with greatest adaptation and provides a road-map that guides and assists with the process. Integration of resilience strategies allows you to:

  • Turn towards the supportive presence of a caring community
  • Listen to others who are grieving and benefit by learning how they are feeling and coping
  • Recognize that by pacing your process you are able to navigate through painful and overwhelming feelings
  • Find strength and courage once again
  • Stay open to life knowing that loss and painful events happen

When you are confronted with grief in your life, consider the following as stepping stones that you can take each day:

  • How can I connect with others in a meaningful way?
  • Can I express my grief by talking, writing, painting, or movement?
  • What are my dreams saying? What is my healing story?
  • What must I surrender to or let go of?
  • In what ways am I being called to be strong and courageous?
  • In what way do I need to ask for help?

If you are struggling with grief and loss, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. In the Boulder area, The Grief Support Network offers community meetings that offer a safe venue to begin moving from isolated grieving to supported healing.

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Dr Arielle Schwartz Clinical Psychologist in Boulder CO

Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook or sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all my posts.

 


Comments

Resilience Psychology and Coping with Grief — 4 Comments

  1. For me the fear isn’t the death but the life that entails the greatest fear. Dying is easy in a certain time or set of life experiences. It’s the living and the knowledge that wanting to live means what I build and want again can now be taken from me that’s the scary part.
    I thank you for what you write and wrote as it works both ways. The fear is the same for me. It’s about the losing of that which I care for and love that matters. That’s where the courage comes in no matter what the flow direction. Thanks, Dave

  2. I wanted to add one more thing to this. As I went home I almost couldn’t remember a death that affected me the way you described.
    Then I remembered when my Brother’s 13Mo Daughter lost her life to shaken baby syndrome. As children we weren’t allowed to cry without dire consequences. I’ve only recently acquired the ability to stand hearing a baby or child cry. I know what happened with my Brother. That’s why I never had children.
    I don’t know another’s experience and for me I remember the almost roiling sense of groundlessness that occurred. There was no real sense of a stable base to stand on or take for granted. When I went to his home to make what sense I could of it I had to create it out of raw will power as there existed none other for me to look at or draw on. That’s the last time I really felt anything for a human. I felt the loss of my cat very acutely. I’ve been glad when my dad and mom died. They cleared the world of some difficult memories and feelings.
    I’ve been around a lot of death and while I can feel the other’s loss and even to some extent my own I also and concurrently feel more alive or as if the state of being alive were more precious.
    I now have people in my world I would really grieve for if they died or were hurt badly. I consider that a good thing. Thanks

    • Dave,
      I’m glad you can write in here. I know that all deaths are not the same nor is anyone’s grief. The loss of a child to shaken baby syndrome is a tragedy. You are not alone in feeling relief at the loss of your parents…when we have been hurt by people it is understandable to feel better when those people die.
      It touches me to hear you say that you now have people that you would really grieve for. that says so much about the life you have created as different from the life you were born into.
      With care,
      Dr. Arielle

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