There is no right or wrong way of mourning, but there are safe ways to manage the grief process. These tips could help.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. This is the emotional pain that you experience when you take away something or someone that you love. The pain of loss can often feel overwhelming. You can feel all sorts of difficult and unpredictable emotions, ranging from shock or rage to disappointment, remorse, and deep regret. The pain of grief can also mess with your physical health, making it hard to sleep, eat or even think straight. These are natural loss-reactions — and the greater the loss, the more intense the grief will be.
One of the toughest struggles in life is dealing with the loss of someone or something you love. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one — which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief — but any loss may cause grief.
Even the subtle losses of life can trigger a sense of grief. For example, you may be grieving after moving away from home, college graduation or changing jobs. Whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel guilty about how you feel, or think that crying over other stuff is only fitting somehow. If the person, object, relationship, or circumstance has been important to you, it is natural to grieve the loss you encounter. However, whatever the cause of your grief, there are safe ways to deal with the pain that will, in time, relieve your depression and allow you to deal with your loss, find new meaning and eventually move on with life.
The grieving process
Grieving is an experience which is highly individual; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on a lot of things, including your temperament and style of coping, your life experience, your religion, and how important your loss was.
The appeal process is typically time consuming. Healing takes place gradually; it can’t be pressured or hurried — and there’s no “natural” mourning timetable. In weeks or months some people start feeling better. For others, the grieving process is measured over the years. Whatever your experience of grief, it is important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold naturally.
How to deal with the grieving process
While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, get to grips with your grief, and eventually find a way to grab the pieces and move on with life.
- Admit your pain.
- Accept that grief can cause many unexpected and distinct emotions.
- Understand that you’ll find the grievance procedure peculiar.
- Get the encouragement from people who care for you face-to-face.
- Support yourself emotionally by taking physical care of yourself.
- Recognize the difference between the depression and grief.
The stages of grief
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were focused on her study of the emotions of terminally ill patients, but other people have extended them into many forms of traumatic life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.
The five stages of grief
- Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
- Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
- Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
- Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- Acceptance:“I’m at peace with what happened.”
If after a loss you feel any of these feelings, it may help you to realize that your reaction is normal, and that you will recover in time. Not everyone who grieves goes through all these stages though — and that’s all right. Contrary to common belief, in order to heal you don’t need to go through every level. In reality, without going through all of these steps, some people overcome their grief. And if you’re going through these stages of grief, you’re probably not going to experience them in a tidy, linear sequence, so don’t think about what you’re supposed to feel like or in which point.
Kübler-Ross herself never intended to be a rigid structure for these stages which applies to all who mourn. She said of the five stages of grief in her last book before her death in 2004: “They were never meant to help tuck chaotic feelings into streamlined packages. There are reactions to loss that many people have, but there is no typical reaction to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our sorrow is as personal as our lives.’
Symptoms of grief
While loss affects people in various ways, when we are grieving many of us experience the following symptoms. Just remember that almost anything you experience in the early stages of grief is normal — including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs.
Emotional symptoms of grief:
Shock and disbelief. Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know they’re gone.
Sadness. Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
Guilt. You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.
Anger. Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.
Fear. A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.
Physical symptoms of grief
We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including:
- Lowered immunity
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Aches and pains
Seek support for grief and loss
The pain of grief can often cause you to want to withdraw from others and go back to your shell. But having other people’s face-to-face support is vital to heal from the loss. Even if you are not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, when you are grieving it is necessary to share them. While expressing your loss will make the burden of grief easier to bear, that doesn’t mean you need to talk about your loss every time you connect with friends and family. Comfort can also come from being around only people who care for you. The trick is not to get yourself separated.
Turn to friends and family members. Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close, spend time together face to face, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Often, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with funeral arrangements, or just someone to hang out with. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, it’s never too late to build new friendships.
Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who’s grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven’t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But don’t use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it’s because they care.
Draw comfort from your faith. If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to church—can offer solace. If you’re questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community.
Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.