Coping With Loss and Grief After Major Life Changes

Coping With Loss and Grief After Major Life Changes

Grieving For All Major Losses

The grieving process can occur when you experience any major loss.  Most people acknowledge that losing someone close to you leads to a period of grief. Many people don’t realise that grieving can occur at other times of our life. Major life changes are grieved as well.  This post is about coping with loss and grief after major life changes.

Grief After a Change in Your Health

Grieving after major life events such as changes in your employment status, or an illness or injury, can impact you in a similar way to the loss of a loved one. Although it is not as acute, it is a type of grief as well. I wrote about the loss of my role as a Registered Nurse due to post mastectomy complications previously. I have been grieving for the change in my health, from being a functioning member of society, to not being able to work.

A few weeks ago I started working with an Exercise Physiologist to build up my upper body strength.  Because I wasn’t allowed to exercise for six months after my bilateral mastectomies, my upper body strength was very poor.  Adding to my issues, I have had chronic back pain for years due to degeneration in my spine.  My aim is to return to my job as a Registered Nurse.  Because I work for Queensland Health, I am unable to return on light duties (as per policy).  I need to be able to do my job 100% including CPR and heavy patient cares, which requires a lot of upper body strength.  

Coping With Disappointment

I started the program with great enthusiasm, believing that the light was at the end of the tunnel with regards to my prolonged recovery.  My first disappointment was being told it would take three months to get me to that point.  This is on top of the eight months I have just had.  Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get back to work, and that’s when I get really despondent.

The second blow was just how much pain I had.  I was using muscles that had been neglected for eight months so they were crying out at having to work!  On top of that I was doing half the exercises wrong, hence the pain.  That was a week wasted.  The exercises seem so basic, but they are making me relearn movements so that I minimise the amount of work my back and leg muscles have been doing.  Something as simple as sit to stand – using the correct method is nothing like I normally would do it.  

Once again I’m frustrated at my slow progress.  I’ve never shed as many tears as I have this year, apart from when I was grieving for my parents and sister.  It does feel like a kind of grief – I’m grieving for the loss of my health and my ability to work.  Even acknowledging to myself that I’m coping with loss and grief doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

Working on my upper body strength has been one way I have been coping with loss and grief.  Photo of my home gym equipment and my dog who I take for daily walks
Working on my upper body strength has been one way I have been coping with loss and grief.

Coping When Someone Close To You Is Dying

I have written about my parents-in-law previously.  My mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer.  We had the palliative care team initial home visit last week.  They are an incredible team who will help my mother-in-law stay in her own home for as long as possible, and in hospital when the time comes.  While my in-laws are excellent for their age, they still struggle sometimes so we are grateful for the extra help they will receive.

We have been planning a surprise birthday party for my mother-in-law.  It is very emotional, knowing that this will be her last.  I don’t think there will be a dry eye there on the day.  I have been planning my father-in-law’s 90th birthday celebration as well.  The amount of planning these two events takes just compounds an already busy time of the year.

Grieving Before They Have Died

I feel like I’m grieving for them before they’ve even gone.  I felt the same when dad was dying of pancreatic cancer.  You’re seeing them deteriorate, and their quality of life diminish as the cancer takes over.  When they no longer enjoy food because their sense of taste and smell is gone, and simple activities sap their strength and leave them breathless, it rips your heart out.

The Affect Grieving Has On Your Life

I had plans for blog posts that still aren’t written.  My time and enthusiasm for writing just hasn’t been there.  Some things are more important, like spending time with family.  When time is limited, you prioritise.  I felt compelled to write  to my remaining uncles and aunties.  They are all aging so quickly and none of them live close.  They are the last link to my parents so I value keeping in contact with them.

Nurturing Yourself When You Are Grieving

I am nurturing myself in order to cope with these circumstances.  I’m making sure to continue activities that I know help me deal with stress.  I never miss a day where I walk my dog for half an hour.  I write in my journal daily and do gentle yoga every couple of days.  When I’m tired I have a rest.  I’m also seeing a psychologist for counseling which has been really helpful while I am coping with loss and grief.

If you are also experiencing grief, or stressful life events, ask for help.  You needn’t go through it alone.  My GP has been supportive of my need to improve my strength and have counseling.  Often women are the ones who prop up the rest of the family.  While they care for everyone around them, they don’t get their needs met.  Don’t be afraid to speak up.  

When there is more than one stressor in your life, such as the ones I am dealing with, your ability to cope is stretched thin.  Sometimes I wonder what my breaking point is.  Life seems to throw more and more at me.  I don’t have all the answers, as sometimes I really don’t do well.

Allowing the Grieving Process to Take Its Course

What I have learned from grieving in the past is that you can’t avoid it. If you deal with it by using substances like alcohol, you just delay the inevitable.  The only way through grief is to let it run its course.  Those days when you can’t get out of bed because you’re crying so much your whole body hurts, just go with it.  Be kind to yourself and accept that it’s going to take time before life resembles any sort of normality.  

There are some deaths you never get over, like my mum’s.  It’ll be 30 years next year and it’s still hard without her.  Losing someone else close to you reminds you of your previous losses.  Small things remind you of them, and can take you back to a different time and place.  

People Grieve in Different Ways

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  And every death will be different.  People don’t cope the same way.  Some like to spend as much time with the person while they still can, while others avoid seeing them sick.  Grief can bring out the worst in people, especially when they don’t think the person is dealing with it the ‘right’ way.  Patience and understanding are needed at a time when the whole family is coping with loss and grief.

Even though life won’t be “normal” for me for a while yet, I won’t give up. I have survived other difficult periods in my life and I know I can get through this. If you would like to read more about coping with difficult situations, you may enjoy:

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2020 – My Unpredictable Year

2020 My Unpredictable Year

2020: The Year That Changed Everything

Who could have predicted how 2020 would pan out?  This has been my most unpredictable year to date, and that’s saying something.  It feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under me, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. It has been an unpredictable year for many reasons, both personal and external. Change and uncertainty can add to the emotional burden of the other world events such as the pandemic.

“Life is What Happens To Us When We’re Making Other Plans”

Allen Saunders, 1957

At the dawn of the New Year I wrote a post Don’t Hold Back.  Full of optimism and excitement for the year ahead, I planned to learn new skills and apply for positions that would take my career into a new direction.  My older son, inspired by my enthusiasm, planned to travel and push his music career to new levels.  We often talk about how our year has not panned out in the way we planned it.

My son had to put his music on hold while we were in lockdown – he couldn’t drive to Brisbane to practice with his band, and gigs were cancelled for months while venues were closed.  He was extremely frustrated – musicians need to perform.  When their creativity is put on hold a major part of themselves is affected.  Travel is also out of the question.

"Life is What Happens to Us When We're Making Other Plans" Allen Saunders.  Fits with this article on how unpredictable 2020 has been.
“Life is What Happens to Us When We’re Making Other Plans” Allen Saunders. Fits with this article on how unpredictable 2020 has been.

Changes in the Family Home

The first shock of the year came when my other son decided to move out.  The Half Empty Nest is the post I wrote at the time when I was going through a grieving process as I came to terms with it.  As it turns out, I’ve coped very well with my son moving out and very soon my other son is leaving too, then I’ll be an empty nester for the first time in 28 years!  It’s wonderful to see my sons “adulting” – they need to move out for their own personal growth.

BRCA2 and its Impact on my Health

The next shock, in February, was my diagnosis of a genetic mutation, BRCA2, which increases my risk of cancer.  At the beginning of this year I would not have believed that I would have four operations, two of them to fix complications from the other two, and that I would have most of this year off work.  My recovery has been prolonged, and at this stage I’m looking at even more time off work. 

 As a Registered Nurse in a busy surgical ward, I am unable to return until I can complete my role 100%, including performing CPR and patient handling.  The loss of that role has been extremely upsetting to me.  I’ve been a nurse for over 30 years and it’s part of my identity.  It’s taking me a while to come to terms with that.  The impact of the surgeries and complications has also taken a toll.  My body is different now, and I have new issues to deal with that will remain with me for life.

Pandemic Pandemonium

March saw the Pandemic drive us all into lockdown.  I doubt if anyone in the world has not been affected in some way from Covid-19.  I’ve been isolated from some of my family since then, and unable to spend time with some of my closest loved ones.  Not being able to travel to be with family during life-changing events like a death in the family, has taken its toll on many of us.  

I’ve now been at home recovering since mid-May, and had time off prior to that for my first operation.  The only positive is that I’ve been able to spend time on my blog, and work on my website to get it the way I want.  I really don’t know how I would have coped without this to do.  I would have gone crazy with boredom!

New Home for Midlifestylist

In the last two weeks I have moved my website from WordPress.com to a different platform.  I’ve been busy trying to get my website back up and functioning.  In the transfer process the last seven blog posts did not migrate to the new host, so I’ve been republishing them.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.  

I am so glad I took the plunge and transferred my website.  The potential is amazing – I have lots of ideas on which direction I want to take Midlifestylist, so watch this space!

Ongoing Health Issues and the Emotional Toll 

In order to cope with massive life changing events and my health issues, my ability to cope emotionally has been under strain.  I’m not coping as well as I was a few weeks ago when I thought that my life would be back to normal by now.  I reached out and I’m going to talk to a counselor to help me to adjust.

I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that you need counseling.  When your sleep is getting affected, and you’re crying at the drop of a hat, it’s time.  I’ll be looking into other ways to assist as well, like meditation and mindfulness.  Being proactive with your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I hope this resonates with some of my readers, and they find comfort in the fact that they are not alone in feeling stressed by the unpredictable events of this year.  Our ability to cope with all that 2020 has given us has been pushed to the limit.  Seek help if you’re not coping.  Don’t struggle through on your own.

I need to follow my own advice and take time for self care.  Read my two articles If you’re feeling stressed – Prioritising Self Care and Journalling as a Self Care Activity.

Please share – someone may need to read this today.

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