Our Blog

Non-death Losses & Grief

Sunday, November 12th, 2023

by Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, MSW, CSW-PIP


Often when we think about the universal human experience of grief, we associate it with the death of a beloved. But grief shows up in many of our non-death experiences as well.  The loss of a friendship, a marriage or a significant relationship; a job, a dream, a home or significant changes in health can turn our worlds upside down and evoke strong feelings of grief and loss.  These are often significant events which impact our mental health. 

When an important relationship ends, it can be extremely painful and emotional.  Often there is loss of trust, connection and companionship.  Many times there are hurts and underlying issues that are a part of the story and this can leave people feeling lost, betrayed and alone.  Losing a job can be more costly than a loss of income.  It can leave you feeling anxious, and diminish your sense of purpose, routine and self-worth.  Failing to achieve a dream or aspiration can feel like a personal loss and can bring profound sadness and disappointment.  A move or significant relocation, no matter if by choice or necessity can lead to feelings of disorientation and loss, as one leaves behind a part of their life.  Transitioning to a long- term care facility or assisted living center can be a huge adjustment and often a traumatic loss.  A major change in health or a health decline often include loss of lifestyle, independence and many difficult physical changes.

Some of the ways our mental health can be impacted includes a loss of identity and/or sense of self, increased vulnerability, feelings of depression and/or anxiety.  People can begin to withdraw from others and isolate themselves, as it can feel challenging to explain or share the pain associated in mourning these losses. 

Loss is any experience where it is not possible to return to life as it once was.  Losses can be tangible or intangible, and can be invisible in nature and difficult to express.  The truth is that you are not alone in experiencing loss.  Healthy coping can feel scary when leaning into our pain feels uncomfortable.  Seeking support, talking and sharing with a trusted person is valuable and can be a path to healing.  Routines and self-care is important as to begin to touch the pain of loss.  Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself, your pain is real and comparing your pain to another person’s “greater” loss can keep us stuck.  We need to give ourselves permission to grieve and trust that the supports around us will stand with us in love. 

Nature provides us with incredible gifts and teachings, and the story of Tahlequah, the Orca Whale shines a light on the pain we carry and is a beautiful reminder that we are not alone.  In 2018, Tahlequah carried her dead infant calf on her nose for 17 days, grieving her loss and sharing it with the ocean for over 408 hours and 1000 miles off the coast of Washington’s Salish Sea. During later parts of the journey, some of Tahlequah’s relatives, took turns carrying the calf, apparently to give the grieving mother time to rest.

At River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton -we will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics.  To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.