Grief. At one point, and usually many points in our lives, we all have to deal with it. Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone or something close to you.
It doesn’t have to be the death of a person. It can be the death of a beloved pet, a job loss, a divorce or separation, your last child leaving the house. Even retirement can, and often does, cause grief – grief over the loss of your “old life”. We can even grieve over the loss of our “old selves” as we get older and youth slips away. Indeed, after a major set-back to our health, eg: losing a limb, the ability to walk, cognitive ability after a stroke, to name just a few, grief is extremely common. There are so many things, both large and small, that we grieve over and it’s important that we fully understand what it means to grieve.
Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time you are grieving, many of the responses you feel are natural and healthy and promote the healing process. It’s important however, to recognize the responses which will hinder your healing, and know when to get additional help to get you through the process.
All of these stages are perfectly normal and healthy steps along your journey to recovery. You may go back and forth between the stages in any order, and that’s perfectly okay!
And although there is no time line for getting through the grieving process, for a severe loss, you can expect to take a full year or more to work your way completely through all of these stages.
This is a protection stage, often experienced immediately after the loss. An unfamiliar feeling of confusion and uncertainty is common. Immediately after learning of the loss, you may experience tunnel vision or the feeling of having an out-of-body-experience. You may not believe that the loss has occurred, and may staunchly deny the loss. Also, numbness is normal, don’t confuse it with “lack of caring”.
As you slowly acknowledge the impact of the loss, denial and disbelief will diminish.
In general, this stage will follow closely on the heels of the Denial stage. “Ok,” your mind thinks, “the loss has occurred…now, what am I going to do to fix it? How can I make things go back to the way they were?”
You may try to bargain with God, or the Universe, or Time itself. “Please, please, please,” you say over and over, “just let me go back and fix this. Just let me have a quick do-over…no one has to know but me.” You may go over the events leading up to the loss, trying to determine “what went wrong”. It may feel as if you can change things if you figure out what mistakes were made, so that they can be corrected.
Of course, your rational mind knows this is impossible, but it’s okay. Just go with the flow. Let your irrational mind give its best shot at fixing it. This stage will help you begin to come to terms with your loss. You’re on the road to acceptance.
If you become too preoccupied however, with what could have been done to prevent the loss, intense feelings of remorse or guilt can interfere with the healing process. After a loss due to suicide or an accident which a person feels could have been prevented, or a relationship break up, people often become stuck in the bargaining stage.
The guilt I felt after the suicide of my fiancé, Dan, almost drove me to the point of suicide myself. If you feel that you are stuck in this stage, or if your thoughts turn toward self-harm, get help.
This stage usually occurs after you realize the true extent of your loss. Signs of depression include: appetite and sleep disturbance, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, prolonged crying spells, loneliness, emptiness, a desire to isolate yourself from others.
There IS a difference between Clinical depression and grief. Depression during the grieving process is normal, expected, and healthy. However, grief CAN and often DOES lead to clinical depression.
Be aware of where you are in the grieving process, so you can recognize when it’s time to get help.
This reaction usually occurs when you feel helpless and powerless. It is most likely to be the stage that pops up, unexpectedly, at any point along the way, and the one that you will most often go quickly back and forth to. This can be alarming, both to yourself, and to others around you. It’s okay to get angry, and I suggest explaining to others that this is a normal stage of your grief. I found people much more understanding of my sudden anger when I explained to them that it was a stage of grief and an important emotion I needed to express.
There are many things that will throw you temporarily back to the anger stage. Feelings of abandonment, anger at a higher power or even toward life itself, your own feelings of guilt or regret, or even anger at the object of your loss for leaving you.
Your feelings of anger are perfectly all right, and often a healthy and constructive expression of your anger is one of the most cathartic and healing experiences you can have. Do not ever hesitate to express your anger, as long as no one gets hurt in the process!
In time, you will come to terms with your various feelings and accept the fact that the loss has occurred. True healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into your set of life experiences.
This was the stage that I least understood when I was grieving. Several years after Dan’s death I was re-married and had a new child. I thought the grieving process was over for me. I remember looking up one day, just short of another anniversary of his death and saying with tears in my eyes, “What more do you want from me, Dan? I did everything I was supposed to do. I have a new husband, and new, beautiful son. I moved on. Now, when will I get over you?”
Remember, acceptance does not mean you “get over it”. It just means you have accepted it and “moved on” with your life.
Throughout your lifetime, you may return to some of the earlier stages of grief. You will never fully “get over” your loss. There is no time limit to the grieving process. Define your own healing process.
Even now, I most commonly go back to the anger and bargaining phase. I don’t try to change time any more, but I do still wonder about what things I could have or should have done differently. And I still get angry at Dan for committing suicide, and myself for missing all the things I “should” have seen.
Factors Which Hinder Grief and Healing:
• Overworking yourself on the job
• Medicating yourself with drugs or alcohol
• Compulsive behavior
• Avoiding emotions
• Avoiding other people
• Minimizing your feeling
• Inability to talk to a support person or group
Factors Which Help Resolve Grief and aid Healing:
• Allowing time to experience thought and feelings openly to yourself
• Expressing feelings openly with others or writing about them in journal entries
• Crying when you feel like crying
• Confiding in a trusted person about your loss
• Acknowledging and accepting both positive and negative feelings
• Finding grief support groups in which there are other who have suffered similar losses
• Seeking professional help if feelings become overwhelming
Check out the Resources/Support page for some starting points to finding your own support group. And as always, if you or someone you care about needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7
What do you think? Have you suffered severe grief? What helped you get through it? Your words of comfort and survival may be just what someone else needs to hear right now. Sharing is caring!