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posted: 6/5/2014 12:18 PM

Only way to get past grief is to go through it

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"I don't want to think about it anymore. I just want to stop hurting."

These words -- often tearful words -- are spoken by many people I see as a therapist.

Life seems to be so full of uncertainty, of change, of disappointment, of disillusionment, of loss. We seem to have so little control over so many of the things that happen to us.

We hear from a co-worker that our job of 20 years may be eliminated. Our best friend moves to a different state. A child and parent become alienated. A spouse has an extramarital affair. A loved one dies.

Such life transitions and crises usually initiate a process we often call simply "grieving." In fact grief is a complex and intertwined set of emotional responses to the losses that are inevitably part of life. Some philosophers go so far as to suggest loss is the one constant and primary dynamic we will encounter in our lives; thus, grief is the one constant and primary emotional process we will experience.

Though various theories detail the process of grieving, most agree that emotions such as shock, denial, anger and depression all are experienced as we move toward an acceptance of the loss we have experienced.

Shock -- a seeming lack of any feeling; denial -- the attempt to pretend we can somehow magically return things to the way they were; anger -- rage at the unfairness of our loss; and depression -- the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. We seem to go around and around through such emotions until we begin to wonder whether we ever will escape.

We will.

Eventually we work through this emotional mess to some sort of acceptance of our loss and a growing peace with the new life we must live.

Though unpleasant, there seems to be no other way to healthily process the losses in our lives other than through grieving. The alternative, which involves denying our feelings or attempting to push them out of our awareness, simply guarantees that our grieving will last longer and hurt even more.

And, too often in fleeing such unpleasant feelings, we distance ourselves from more pleasurable emotions. To feel joy we must also be able to feel sorrow. To find satisfaction we must also be open to disappointment. To celebrate we must grieve.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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