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Chronic Illness, Loss and Grieving

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When chronic illness occurs so can a parallel process of looking at all the things that changed or what may change due to it. Many of these losses may seem minor to an outside person like giving up a particular food, drink or activity. Other times it may come across as more significant to the outsider such as a physical manifestation because of some kind of visual indication that there is something going on. Looking ‘normal’, cycling between good days and bad days or not visibly wearing your struggle can make it difficult for others to understand that you are dealing with a serious condition and it’s impact on your life. People tend to have an expectation of what someone who is ‘sick’ is supposed to look or act like. By not fitting their mold of what ‘it looks like’ and can significantly decrease their understanding and increase their insensitivity to your struggle or sometimes they just forget. The perceptions of others as to what ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ constitute another’s loss can leave one feeling minimized, devalued or disregarded and this doesn’t help the person struggling. The message of ‘it’s no big deal’ or ‘man up’ may be delivered with the best of intentions. The reality is every time something like that is stated it loads on another hurdle for you to overcome in an already uphill battle.

Whatever the situation that you are in, if you’re experiencing a loss and grieving it, it’s okay, you do not need another’s approval to experience your emotions. Some people will be fortunate enough to not experience loss or grief in their new journey but if you do you are not alone in having this experience. It’s appropriate to grieve a loss in your own personal way and we all grieve differently. In Kubler Ross’ research with terminal patients she was able to identify the 5 stages of grief which were experienced in no particular order: denial, depression, anger, bargaining and acceptance. This research has also been applied to different losses beyond those who are terminal. The sequence of these items will vary and one can even cycle through a few times. Emotions aren’t inherently good or bad although they can leave us feeling in a positive or negative emotional state. They are what they are and ignoring or rejecting them doesn’t make them go away. Allowing yourself to experience the emotion and the loss is okay but it’s important not to remain stuck in any one of the more negatively impacting states. Finding an understanding ear from a supportive loved one, connecting with others who are experiencing a similar illness or seeking professional health are all healthy ways to address the loss and grief that you are experiencing.

For more information on Kubler-Ross’ research please visit the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation website: www.ekrfoundation.org

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