Coping with loss

Grief and coping are sometimes inevitable in life, especially when a loved one or a close friend loses the battle against cancer. Even experts aren’t 100 percent sure on how to properly cope with the loss of a loved one to cancer. They do, however, have their own takes on coping with death and moving forward-- keeping in mind there are no rules set in stone when coping with death.

Experts have traditionally used the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief in order to provide a rational, functional framework for grieving people. These five stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Other experts, such as Steve Havertz, refute the Kubler-Ross grieving stages because “they no longer apply to those experiencing loss.” “I used to teach the stages of grief in my clinical work and will never teach them again. These stages are restrictive and set clients and people up for unrealistic expectations,” Havertz said.

Havertz, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has provided counseling for families and individuals for over 21 years, teaches instead his “shut off valve” technique, a coping mechanism in which the individual “shuts off” certain emotions regarding the loss of a loved one in order to honor and acknowledge them later. Havertz came up with this technique shortly after his 9-year-old daughter, Emmalee, died.

“I was having a difficult time with my emotions. Whenever my client would mention something about cancer or death, I could feel the emotions starting to bubble up. I had to temporarily "shut off" these feelings and learn how to honor them later. If we don't let these feelings out they could affect us physically, emotionally and in our relationships,” Havertz said.

The “shut off valve” technique also comes equipped with a “release valve” to help us get our emotions out. “I chose to honor my feelings and remember Emmalee, while driving, on my way home from work. I turned on music that reminded me of her and would let the tears flow,” Havertz said.

Not everyone, however, copes the same way and in the same amount of time. David M. Reiss, M.D., the former Interim Medical Director of Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, states that nobody should expect to grieve or cope with the death of a loved one in a certain or specific way. “It is normal to experience sadness, anger, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, intrusive thoughts and even feelings of despair. There is no single ‘way’ to grieve and the duration of grief can different widely from person-to-person without being ‘pathological,’” Reiss said.

Again, there is no specific way or method for coping with losing a loved one. If you, a friend or someone you know has lost a loved one to cancer, please share your story with the MCA community on Facebook.

Here are some tips that could help with the coping process provided by Mr. Steve Havertz:

  1. When grief is intense, it increases our stress and we need quick ways to de-stress. One way is through a favorite activity, like any physical activity or a hobby. This allows us to reduce the level of stress in our tank and stop grief from overwhelming us.
  2. Know that the feelings are going to come and go just like the tide ebbs and flows. As you recognize this you can learn to manage and predict the tides.
  3. We need to get our feelings out because there is a chance if we don't, suppressed feelings can have emotional and physical consequences. One nice way to do this is to write a letter to our loved one who has passed and tell them what they meant to us, favorite memories or just how much we miss them.
  4. Find a metaphor that describes your pain. This will allow you to understand your pain better and help others understand what you are feeling as well. For those who may be struggling getting over a loss this will help. "My pain comes on as quickly and is as intense as falling off a cliff. Not having them around is like living without one of my limbs. I need to learn to function without them in my life."
  5. Allow others to help you. There are many who are willing to listen, support and help distract you temporarily from pain you may be feeling.

Steve Havertz is the author of Dragonfly Wings for Emmalee, an inspirational book about the life and death of his daughter Emmalee. At the end of this book he shares his personal and professional experiences with loss and gives advice to those who are grieving. He has been a licensed mental health therapist for over 20 years and an excellent speaker and motivator.