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"I feel like my world has been turned upside-down!" These are words heard at [the Austin Center for Grief & Loss (ACGL)] over and over as people try to describe the experience of the death of a child or a spouse.

These words reflect the feelings of imbalance, disorientation, and confusion that accompany the many other feelings that surface in grief. Information about grief and loss almost always addresses the feelings of sadness, anger, and loneliness. However, the feelings that accompany this sense of having lost grounding are not often mentioned, though very normal and common.

The experience of having lost a sense of groundedness is rooted in the loss of the assumptions each person has about how life works; how relationships work, how the world works. Quite often these assumptions or beliefs are not necessarily ideas that are discussed or even overtly thought out. These assumptions are deeply rooted in our experiences and learnings and pervade how we see the world.

For example, it is a common assumption that if a person works hard they will be rewarded. Another common assumption is that family members support one another. And still another common underlying assumption is that we will live to see our children's children. In reality, all of these assumptions may be "turned upside down" by a life experience that challenges this belief. When this occurs the individual is shaken as their "footing," that is, what they believed was foundational, is not true. Usually in these situations there are multiple assumptions shaken which confounds the sense of confusion and disorientation.

As the grieving adult moves through the process in individual therapy or a grief support group these assumptions surface and are named aloud which helps to clarify the resulting feelings. Further, over time the person is assisted in relinquishing the old belief and in constructing a new belief which makes sense in the face of the loss experience. Once this new belief is integrated the person begins to feel a new sense of balance and solid footing which enable them to take steps forward; steps focused on life. As this is happening the loss is becoming integrated. The story of the loss is no longer THE story of the person's life. Rather the loss story is a seminal experience in a bigger life story that is being rewritten based on some new understandings about self and the world. Transformation has begun and the love beneath the loss has shown its amazing power. That is the work we strive to facilitate at ACGL.

Copyright 2012 The Austin Center for Grief & Loss

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