Grief is emotional suffering or bereavement at the death of a loved one. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no timetable for grieving. It is a process we navigate in our own way, at our own pace. Yes, it’s alright to cry. In fact, crying seems to release some of the heaviness of sorrow.
Grieving is an intensely personal emotion that may be colored by guilt, regret, anger, sadness. Some people withdraw, become helpless, disengage from the business of living, while others cannot sit still, and express their grief in activity.
No matter the presentation, we need patience, courage and strength, as we go through the stages of the grieving process. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlines 5 stages in the grieving process:
- Denial, the initial response, is protective and serves to keep us from being overwhelmed by the loss. This stage may last a few minutes, hours, or days.
- Anger, a tool we use to make sense of, and cope with, the reality of the loss. We may feel anger at ourselves, at God, at the deceased, at life in general for the injustice of the loss, especially if it is unexpected, as in the case of the death of one’s child.
- Bargaining, in which we promise to do something in exchange for having the lost person returned to us: “If I devote my life to helping others, can I wake up to find this was all a bad dream?”
- Depression, often the most painful stage, comes when we realize the finality of the loss, that there is no turning back.
- Acceptance comes from coming to terms with the fact that our loved one has gone, and beginning to reorganize our lives around this new reality.
Others have delineated 7 stages of grief. These are shock, anger, guilt, anxiety, physical, behavioral and cognitive symptoms, suffering, and recovery.
- Shock or numbness, the initial reaction, protects us from being overwhelmed by the loss.
- Anger, a normal part of grieving, as explained above.
- Guilt is a common reaction to failing to do something before the loss or perhaps doing negative things before the loss; for example, not saying “I love you,” being unkind, not apologizing for causing hurt, or any action not taken that we perceive may have prevented the loss;
- Anxiety, either mild insecurity or panic attacks, about our ability to take care of ourselves, and about the well-being of other loved ones;
- Physical, behavioral and cognitive symptoms occur. We may become fatigued, may experience loss of motivation, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, may no longer enjoy activities that used to be pleasurable, may become confused, preoccupied, be unable to concentrate;
- Suffering, often the most painful stage, is the long period of grief during which we come to terms with the loss. Suffering includes sadness (the most common aspect of grief), and may be experienced as emptiness and despair. It is expected that the physical and emotional symptoms will stabilize and diminish over time as we move through the grieving process. If they do not, professional help is recommended.
- Recovery is the goal of grieving. True, we continue to experience feelings of loss, and the occasional wave of sorrow that hits us like a bolt out of the blue. However, as we reorganize our lives, we are better able to accept the loss, integrate it as one important aspect of life. As we do, we are enabled to resume living.
The loss of a loved one is a painful experience. It requires us to be gentle with ourselves, to accept support, and to go on sharing our lives and memories of our deceased loved ones with family and friends.
Don’t be afraid to seek support during this difficult time, whether this is through your family, friends, hospice, or a licensed therapist. We can help you through this; you don’t have to suffer alone.
Written by Pansy Lindo-Moulds, LMHC