Mind Matters — The Continuum of Grief

There is no exit from life’s experiences. Grief, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, is a response to loss that no human being can avoid. Grief is our internal response to loss and includes emotions, physical reactions, and mental perceptions.

My own notion of grief is that it is as a continuum of loss. And continually we are faced with loss. There are the overwhelming losses of a family member—especially of one for whom it seemed incongruous or untimely—the adolescent driving home from a music lesson, with car going out of control; the talented woman artist overwhelmed by her sensitivity who suicides. At one end of the continuum, where these stories lie, we face tragic loss; at the other end of the continuum are the little losses that constitute everyday living.

Daily we meet death—little deaths. We continually change. We age. The philosopher Heidegger reminds us that, when we are born, we become “beings towards death.” Perhaps this seems depressing, almost a message of despair.

Instead of despair, we can celebrate each moment of life in living it fully. Ironically, in order to live life fully, we need to honor our grief, even the “little” losses. If we lose our jobs, we grieve. However, the colleagues left behind also grieve. They feel the loss of their coworker. This can be, in fact, demoralizing to a workforce. When a neighbor, who has been your walking buddy for twenty years, moves thousands of miles away, that too is a form of loss.

Change itself is loss. As we age, we face changes in the body’s ability to function; we lose mobility of body and cognitive ability of mind. It is a humbling experience that requires resilience of spirit and adaptability of mind.

I consult at a retirement community and find that staff and residents confront losses, large and small, every day.

We may wonder how a woman in her nineties elects to be fed solely by a feeding tube, never again to taste a meal. Then we witness her face becoming radiant when her daughter visits. And so, for her, life continues to have great meaning.

Meanwhile, another resident grapples with his ailments of aging while he worries how life will be for him if his wife dies first (given that she has a serious illness, this is a possibility). This resident, like all of us, needs to enjoy the moment of life he has right now, and live in gratitude for that moment.

The very connections and relationships we celebrate are, yes, the very ones that we grieve when we face loss. Rather than protect ourselves from that vulnerability to suffering, we actually need to dive into our connectedness to “stay alive” while we move through this journey called life. As Zorba the Greek (remember Kazantzakis?) would say, we need to take on “the full catastrophe” with open arms.

• Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted to http://www.DrGajdos.com/Articles.

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.



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