Thomas J. Sims M.D.

Under Extreme Circumstances

The Extreme Circumstance of Losing a Loved One

Three principles in dealing with loss of a loved one you don't want to miss.

Posted Aug 29, 2019

The Extreme Circumstance of Losing a Loved One

This summer I lost five friends. One was expected; four were not. The one I believed would soon pass was suffering terminal cancer, and I believe the end of her life marked the end of her suffering. As hard as it was to lose her, I found comfort in the fact her suffering was over. Relief of pain and suffering made her passing truly a blessing to both her and those of us to loved her. But the loss of the others – four friends I’d seen, eaten with, joked with, had a beer with, and had shared life experiences with were suddenly snuffed away and I was left with an extreme sense of loss that caught me off guard.

I was grieving; experiencing one of those extreme circumstances in life I write about in this blog.  I wanted to get over my grief and move on, yet I found myself struggling with how I might do that, how I might use the three principles of surviving life’s extreme circumstances I discuss in my book “On Call in the Arctic” – improvise, be flexible, and persevere. Life had thrown me a curveball and getting over it wasn’t easy.

I found myself feeling more than sad. I felt in a slump. Life activities I normally enjoy and loving relationships I’m fortunate to have in my life weren’t helping. I found myself wondering if I would ever be happy again. Then I started to fear I was clinically depressed, and I knew then it was time to give my feelings attention the deserved.  

Grief and Depression

Extreme loss can trigger feelings of grief so intense they can devolve into depression. Grief is normal; depression is not.

I had to understand the difference between grief and depression so I could deal effectively with my feelings. Here’s what I learned . . .

In conditions of “grief” the initial symptoms of sadness come and go in cycles or waves.  In grief, not long after experiencing a loss, grievers begin to experience joy once again. The joy may be with others they love, work and pleasure activities. Often the joy is centered around fond memories of the person they have just lost.

In depression sadness is persistent. Depressed people do not seek relief from their feelings of sadness, and often they experience guilt if their feelings of sadness begin to wane.

People grieving often seek support and advice from others who might be grieving the same loss. Grievers will seek out counselling, support groups, communication with others who are also feeling loss.

People suffering depression often withdraw from others and isolate themselves in a world of loneliness and despair.

People grieving can usually go about their daily life functions, often seeking out work or leisure activities just to get their minds off their feelings of loss.

In depression, people can become debilitated by their sadness. They lose interest in work and love relationships and often fall into a state of non-productivity.  

I learned that grief is normal and short lived. Depression is not. Depression is an unhealthy cycle that should be recognized and dealt with before it becomes overwhelming.

How to Deal

Learning to deal healthily with grief before it becomes depression is vital to one’s own sense of wellbeing. Here’s where the three principles of adapting to life’s extreme circumstances I so believe in can come into play.

Improvise – You’ve had a loss you didn’t expect, and it’s hit you hard. But there are others in your life that bring you joy, others who love you and are concerned about your wellbeing. Concentrate on that and be in touch with those persons. Do not allow yourself to slip into a zone of isolation and withdrawal.

Be flexible – You’ve spent time and energy with the person you’ve lost and there is a void in your life. You feel the void intensely. You need to fill that void. Be flexible in your decisions how to move on. Be open to making new friends and increasing the relationship you have with old friends. Reunite with your family if somehow, you’ve drifted apart. Open your mind and heart to other life experiences and seek out new joys and challenges you’ve never tried before. Go out of a limb and apply yourself. Take a college class, write a memoir, join a club or organization composed of people with whom you share a common interest. You may be shocked at what you discover about yourself when doing so.

Persevere – Do not give up your quest to feel better! Do not let grief take you down a path of depression. Seek help when you need it, especially if other people in your life tell you they are concerned. Remember you are responsible for your own happiness. Do all you can to get yourself back on track.