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Grief comes after job loss or layoff

The Grief Program of Santa Clarita will host a free community presentation Sept. 25

Posted: September 11, 2008 8:35 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Shock, anxiety, fear, doubt, worry, confusion - these are just a few of the normal and natural feelings after the loss of a job, layoff or end of a career. Jeff Zhorne, director of The Grief Program of Santa Clarita, said the purest definition of grief is any change in a familiar pattern or behavior, certainly true after the loss of an income stream.

"It's the reaching out for the familiar, the reliable, only to find it's gone," Zhorne said.

Studies show the average person will encounter 42 potential loss experiences, ranging from loss of job and loss of health to death and divorce.

"If these losses are not resolved appropriately, pain and melancholy begin to eat away at our mental and physical health and the lives of those around us," Zhorne said. "In our work with people coping with job loss, one thing is clear - unresolved grief stems from unexpressed communications of an emotional nature. Leaving things unsaid creates pain."

Yet instead of working through grief events such as job loss, many people try to bury their pain or numb themselves with drugs, sex, alcohol or other short-term pain relievers.

Zhorne is acquainted with loss himself. Seventeen years ago his two children, ages 4 and 2, died in a auto accident in England.

"It was horrifying, I was utterly helpless, I didn't know where to turn," he said. "My personal life spiraled down with the loss of my marriage, loss of my job and loss of health. I came to the point where I had to recover or die."

Zhorne said people tried to help by offering phrases of comfort. Among the most common were: "Be grateful you still have your wife," or "It could've been worse" and "You just have to let go and move on."

Let go of what? Move on to where? Zhorne asked.

He said loss of career along with death, divorce and other losses catch most people totally unprepared.

"So grieving people wind up faking it and acting like everything is all right. We put on our happy face because society gives you about three days to grieve and you'd better be back to work on the fourth day.

Later, you hear things like, ‘It's been a year, aren't you over it by now?'" he said.

Zhorne said one of the greatest myths to recovery is the concept of "just give it time."

"I ask people who have experienced a loss more than 25 years ago. ‘If it just takes time were true, wouldn't 25 years be enough?' And, of course, it's not," he said.

Zhorne said this myth is like having a flat tire and waiting for air to come into the tire all by itself, with no one having called a tow truck or gotten out a jack to repair it.

"The buried pain of unresolved loss is very real, has energy and doesn't go away on its own. Unresolved grief affects you negatively, sooner or later," he said, "It will make itself known when you least expect it.

Reactions become disproportionate to circumstances, and emotional, mental and physical well-being suffers."

Among the most common symptom of unresolved grief issues is isolation, said Zhorne.

"People get tired of hearing about our pain, so we stay home, pop in a DVD and order out so we don't have to see anybody," said Zhorne. "From earliest childhood we learn to hide our feelings and bury them.

Feelings are not OK out there, so we look for relief through distractions."

He said people can continue to stuff their feelings, shove them away or numb themselves until the losses become an ever-growing weight being carried around.

"Life becomes like running an Olympic race with a 500-pound on your neck. Then we wonder why we're not winning and life isn't the happy, joy-filled experience we had always envisioned," he said.

Zhorne said that what he found in grief recovery was a way to "finish the unfinished emotional pain" and end the isolation and loneliness.

"Recovery starts by being able to freely express all the thoughts and emotions connected with loss, including loss of a job or end of a career," he said. "Maybe it's regret, which is often associated with loss - wishing things had been different, better or more - or maybe it's grieving the loss of unrealized hopes, dreams and expectations."

Zhorne said The Grief Program, provides a step-by-step method for completing incomplete loss issues and moving beyond to a fuller life.

"Most of us simply are not trained how to handle loss," he said. "We're taught to acquire stuff, not what to do when we lose anything. As children we are given no skills or tools on how to cope with painful emotions."


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