One of the greatest challenges of chronic illness is coming to terms with grief. While grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one, it can occur after any loss. And chronic illness brings with it many serious losses. We may be forced to give up our job, may lose friends and feel abandoned by family, and may experience loss of control over our bodies and our lives. In sum, we experience the loss of the person we used to be. The pervasiveness of loss presents us with one of our biggest tasks: finding meaning when so much has been taken from us. Working through our grief can produce a double benefit. Not only are we resolving a psychological issue in chronic illness by facing our losses, we may be helping ourselves physically as well. Grieving is associated with the flare-up of symptoms, so resolving feelings of loss can help control symptoms. It may produce even more dramatic effects as well. A recent study of HIV-positive men who had lost a close friend to AIDS found that those men who were able to find meaning in the loss had a significantly lower risk of dying of AIDS themselves in the following several years.
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