Dealing with grief
Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
There are seven stages of grief. Not everyone experiences every single stage, and you might go through them in a different order.
Shock or disbelief
Shock or disbelief is usually the first reaction you have to the news that your loved one has passed. You might feel numb, unable to feel anything in the first few moments. This experience can be surprising and you may not immediately sense the devastated feelings you would expect to feel with such news.
You might experience a sense of denial. This doesn’t so much occur in the grieving process, but happens when you might “forget” that your loved one has passed away. Denial relates to how you express your emotions surrounding grief. For example, you might continually say, “I’m fine,” when asked by those around you how you are. You might do this because you are denying your feelings. You might also say this because you are struggling to know how to share your feelings with your closest friends and family. You might also feel that you don’t want to bother them.
You might want to bargain, attempt to make a deal, often with God, to change the situation. Bargaining may not be so frequent when a loved one has died, but it might be something you had experienced while they were being held captive.
You might also feel guilty. Perhaps you have regrets about things you did or said before your loved one died. You might also wish you could turn back the clock and do some things differently.
Some people experience anger when they are grieving. You might be angry at your loved one for leaving you or with yourself or simply at the situation you are left to face alone.
Depression is often used to describe the profound sadness that is a natural human reaction to grief and loss. The symptoms of grief are very similar to those of clinical depression: a lack of energy and motivation, difficulty concentrating, interrupted sleep patterns (either sleeping too little or too much), a change in eating habits (eating more or less than usual), and experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.
In the last stage of the seven stages of grief, you will arrive at the belief that although life will never be the same again, there is hope that life will go on.
In the immediate aftermath of your loved one’s death it can seem impossible to believe that you will be able to rebuild your life. Most families do go on to lead full lives. There is hope.
Ways to cope with grief
Although there are no quick fixes after you have lost your loved one, there are a number of steps that you can take to make the coping easier.
Actively grieve and mourn. Grief is an inner sense of loss, sadness and emptiness. Mourning is how you express those feelings. You might plan a funeral or memorial service, wear black, and carry a somber demeanor. Both grief and mourning are natural and necessary parts of the healing process after a loss.
Acknowledge your pain. If you don’t face your grief, your wounds might never quite go away. Accept that the pain you’re feeling is part of dealing with grief and moving toward a state of healing and acceptance.
Look to loved ones and others for support. Spending some time alone is fine, but isolation isn’t a healthy way to deal with grief. A friend, a confidant, a spiritual leader — they can all can help you along your way. Allow loved ones and other close contacts to share in your sorrow or simply be there.
Don’t make major decisions while grieving. Grief clouds the ability to make sound decisions. If possible, postpone big decisions — such as moving, taking a new job or making major financial changes. If you must make decisions right away, seek the input or guidance of trusted loved ones or other close contacts.
Take care of yourself. Grief consumes a significant amount of energy. Your will to live and ability to follow normal routines might quickly erode. To combat these problems, try to get adequate sleep, eat a healthy diet and include physical activity in your daily routine. Consider a medical checkup to make sure your grief isn’t adversely affecting your health — especially if you have any existing health conditions.
Remember that time helps, but it might not cure. Time has the ability to make that acute, searing pain of loss less intense and to make your emotions less painful. But your feelings of loss and emptiness might never completely go away. Accepting and embracing your new “normal” might help you reconcile your losses.