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Coping with Loss – You never know how a workshop will go.

November 18, 2016

I provided a workshop this week on behalf of Early Childhood Educators: Helping Children Cope with Loss.

As per all my workshops, I start by asking the group why they came; what they wanted to get out of this workshop; did they have a child or situation in mind they were grappling with; how could I help them with this topic?

Loss was defined in broad terms: loss of a loved one; loss of a pet; loss of a relationship; loss of home or country.

Several of the 25 participants sought direction for helping preschoolers through parental separation, loss of a pet and even loss of a parent. However, the biggest category of concern was personal loss. Many of the attendees were coping with their own loss. They were hoping to gain some insight on how to cope and more pointedly, how to cope with others who had difficulty with their grieving. Another large group of people sought guidance on how to respond to someone’s loss and grief.

We did discuss all kinds of loss that afternoon. We differentiated between tangible and ambiguous loss and also discussed different grief reactions. We looked at how children grieve and how grief will look or present differently depending on the age of the child.

The real issues though were how to respond to a person with a recent loss and grief and, in a sense, how to gain permission to grieve.

In terms of how to respond, we discussed how seeing someone in the anguish of loss is difficult to observe; how it is challenging to be in the moment with someone elses pain; how we feel uncomfortable and how we may want to either run or rescue.

Supporting someone in their anguish of loss is all about remaining there in their moment; not being frightened off by the expression of pain and bearing witness by just being present.

It is certainly reasonable to say with honesty that you are sorry for the person’s loss.

These behaviors are the hallmarks of empathy in action. These behaviors say that the experience is beyond words, but my presence validates your experience and that you are not alone. We are emotionally safe, despite the grief. You have permission to feel the pain and we will endure, because I can endure your upset. You have a safe place with me to feel the hurt of loss. You don’t need to remain stoic. You can cry too. The pain of loss is an expression of our humanity and pays tribute and respect to the loss.

Those who were coping with loss more acutely who attended the workshop appeared to need validation, that it was OK to grieve and be sad. There is no real timetable for grief.

Many expressed being confronted with the sentiment, just get over it. Typically that is the expression of others who are uncomfortable with painful emotions. Their demand or guidance is based more on a projection of their need not to be discomforted by not being able to live with or resolve the pain of another. I gave these persons word to use: You don’t need to fix me or resolve my grief. I will be OK and even now I am OK even while experiencing the pain of my loss.

I don’t think in terms of people getting over it. I view that as disrespectful of the relationship/person they are grieving. Rather, we integrate the experience into our lives and learn to live with loss. Integrating the experience can be complicated when there is an expectation of a timetable, beyond which we simply swallow or run away from our pain. Paradoxically, permission to feel our pain helps us release it. Talking about it can help. Finding perspective can help.

This was a very powerful and emotional workshop. I think we all got more than we bargained for. I am often thanked for my presentations. I don’t think I was ever thanked so thoughtfully. It was a pleasure to be of service.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships




One Comment
  1. Gary, I was glad to read that you included pet loss in your article. This is the core of the grief work I do and I find it is often over-looked by grief counselors. The loss of a companion animal can be devastating and for many of my clients the worst loss of their lives, even more profound than the loss of a parent. Helping children cope with this kind of loss is difficult for parents who are struggling themselves. When they send their children off to school or out to play they tend to believe that the child will “get over it.” I have found this not to be the case. Children may not have the verbal skills to articulate their grief but also are reticent to further upset parents that are on shaky ground themselves. Here is an opportunity to help children learn to recover from losses and become stronger and more compassionate in their life journey of uncertainties and beginnings and endings.

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