Grief and Loss
There is much to experience in life. As much as there are wonderful moments of celebrations and transitions, such as birthdays, graduation, and reunions, life can also bring challenging experiences that can be less pleasant or even painful at times. Grief is the normal response of sorrow, confusion and loss that comes from losing someone or something important to you. People can feel grief upon losing a job, a pet, a friendship, a relationship or moving somewhere new as well as during the death of a loved one. It can also be experienced through emotional or physical trauma through relationships or our environment. While each grief is unique, just as each relationship is unique, they all have in common a sense of loss. There is no time-table on grief, because learning to live without the one you loved may be a lifelong process.
Below are the five stages of grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It is recognized that these stages may or may not occur in linear fashion nor does everyone go through all the stages. We learned that grief is not a process to “get over”, rather a unique journey with a mixture of emotions and reactions. There is no right or wrong way to grieve not is there a time-table because learning to live without the one you loved may be a lifelong process. However, understanding and being able to put words to how we are feeling may help with the process.
Stages of Grief
1. Denial and Isolation
The first reaction is to deny the reality of the situation. Many people rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is what helps to buffer the immediate shock. This is a response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
Reality and its pain emerge yet we may not be ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected, and expressed instead as anger.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control– We may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This helps to protect us from the painful reality.
We begin to recognize that there is nothing we can do to change or do. Along with feeling intense sadness, we may also experience worry, regret, fear, and uncertainty.
This is differentiated with feeling “good” or “ok” about the loss. Most people don’t ever feel OK but we learn to accept this new reality and adjust the changes that may go along with the loss.
What Are Some Reactions?
Sadness; anger/ irritability; fear; guilt; anxiety; loneliness; helplessness; shock; yearning; relief; numbness.
Hollowness in stomach; tightness in chest; tightness in throat; sensitivity to noise; sense of de-personalization, “this isn’t real;” breathlessness; weakness in muscles; lack of energy.
Fatigue; disbelief; confusion; preoccupation; sense of presence; hallucinations.
Sleep disturbance; appetite changes; absent-minded behavior; social withdrawal; dreams of deceased; avoiding reminders of deceased; restless hyperactivity; difficulties concentrating; crying.
Tasks of Mourning
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Process the pain of grief
- Adjust to the world
What Can You Do?
- The grief process is an individual experience. Some people like to talk about it while others prefer to grieve by “doing” something. Consider both and do what feels right for you.
- Express your grief. How do you express your feelings? Do you cry, scream, get angry or use music, art, poetry, journaling?
- Be open and understanding towards yourself. There is no specific amount of time the healing process takes. It is different for everyone. Allow yourself the time to heal.
- Avoid alcohol or other substances.
- Allow yourself to engage in normal everyday activities. Try to not over-schedule yourself.
- Get regular sleep and eat healthful, regular meals.
- Get regular exercise.
- If needed, give yourself a break.
- If you are religious, contact your place of worship and utilize the services that are offered.
- Do one nice thing for yourself every day.
- Consider creating ways to memorialize your loved one (ie: start a scholarship, plant a garden, etc).
- Find ways to maintain connection with the individual you lost.
- Be patient. There may be days where you feel great and other days where there may be setbacks. There is not right way to grieve, nor is there a deadline.
- Consider getting professional help if you feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or helpless. Seek professional help if you have suicidal thoughts. Grief therapy does not have to be long-term. It may be beneficial. Call us at (213) 740-7711 to talk with a counselor.
- Hickman, M. (1994).Healing after loss : daily meditations for working through grief. New York: Avon Books.
- Staudacher, C. (1987).Beyond grief : a guide for recovering from the death of a loved one. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Viorst, J. (1998).Necessary losses. New York: Fireside.
- Smolin, A. & Guinan, J. (1993).Healing after the suicide of a loved one. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Bozarth, A. (1994).A journey through grief. Center City, Minn: Hazelden Educational Materials.