"How long before I start to feel normal again?" "I feel his presence around me and talk to him - is that crazy?" "People tell me I should be over this by now, but I don't feel over it. Are they right?"

Questions like these come up frequently when discussing the loss of someone we love. The universal truth is that we'll all face these, or similar questions, at some point in our lives. Dying is an inevitable part of life, and like taxes, it's inescapable. While much has been written about this topic, when we are in the midst of our own grief, the world can seem a very difficult place; a place without guidance on how to deal with our feelings. The care of friends and family may comfort us, as may our faith, but many times we feel alone. Sometimes the expectations that we should be over it, whether those expectations come from ourselves or from others, increase our sense of sadness and isolation.

The good news is that you're not alone on this journey. There are others like you going through this same process. Their loss may or may not be similar: A spouse of many years, a young child, a best friend, or an aging parent. They're also trying to figure out how to heal the hurt and fill up the hole left in their life. While these differences can complicate how one copes with the steps of returning to normal, they can also unite us in a shared understanding that life is different now than it once was and we need to find our place in it again.

In our grief and loss group, we discuss these issues along with many others: How to tackle jobs loved ones used to do, how to overcome the guilt of forgetting, when to clean out the closets, how to honor their memory. There are tears, but there is also laughter. Both are okay; they help us heal. If you, or someone you know, might benefit from sharing feelings in a safe, comforting place, there are grief and loss groups held in our area. Check your local paper and community calendars. There are also on-line resources and chat groups that can provide support. If groups are not your thing, that is okay. There are many qualified therapists who can help. Others may find talking to their priest, rabbi, minister or spiritual counselor beneficial. Engaging in activities, artistic expression, journaling, or focusing on others can all be steps to help with healing. The important thing is to find what works for you.

Eileen Braheney, LICSW, works for the VNA & Hospice of SVHC and co-leads a Bereavement Support Group with Elizabeth Fredland, LICSW, every Tuesday at the Vermont Veteran's Home in Bennington.

Call 442-5502 for information or referrals.