Grief has no timetable. While the sense of loss and the intermittent sadness may never go away completely, people experience the cycle of grief differently. Some find that within a few weeks or months the period between waves of distress lengthens, and they are able to feel peace, renewed hope, and enjoy life more and more of the time. Others may face years of being hit with what feels like relentless waves of grief.
Knowing What to Expect: When a death takes place, you may experience a wide range of emotions, even when the death is expected. Many people report feeling an initial stage of numbness after first learning of a death, but there is no real order to the grieving process.
Some emotions you may experience include:
- · Denial
- · Disbelief
- · Confusion
- · Shock
- · Sadness
- · Yearning
- · Anger
- · Humiliation
- · Despair
- · Guilt
Remember: It takes time to fully absorb the impact of a major loss. You never stop missing your loved one, but the pain eases after time and allows you to go on with your life.
Mourning a Loved One
It is not easy to cope after a loved one dies. You will mourn and grieve. Mourning is the natural process you go through to accept a major loss. Mourning may include religious traditions honoring the dead or gathering with friends and family to share your loss. Mourning is personal and unique to each individual.
Grieving is the outward expression of your loss. Your grief is likely to be expressed physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For instance, crying is a physical expression, while guilt is a psychological expression.
It is very important to allow yourself to express these feelings. Often, death is a subject that is avoided, ignored or denied. At first it may seem helpful to separate yourself from the pain, but you cannot avoid grieving forever. Someday those feelings will need to be resolved or they may cause physical or emotional illness.
Coping with grief and loss: The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it is important to talk about them when you’re grieving.
Knowing that others know and understand your grieving will help you feel better, feel less alone with your pain, and will help you heal.
Helping yourself cope with grief and loss
· Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loved one in a journal, or write the person a letter saying the things you never got to say. Create a scrapbook or artwork about the person; create an appropriate memorial in his or her honor (for example, if the person loved flowers, plant or fund a garden); get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
· Take care of yourself physically. Get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and engage in regular exercise. Do not use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially. (That may even apply to antidepressants meant to ease the sadness of grief; because grief, unlike depression, is not a disorder, masking the pain with meds may be less productive than working through the sadness.) Healthy habits will help you with grieving, but substance use will impede recovery and can lead to long-term dependence
· Don’t let other people tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” At the same time, it’s okay to be angry at the person who died, to cry every day if you need to, to yell at the heavens without being embarrassed. Conversely, it’s okay to laugh. If watching a your favorite comedy film helps you heal, no one has the right to tell you it’s inappropriate.
· Plan ahead. Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones in life can be particularly challenging. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.
Helping others: One of the great strengths of a community is its capacity to care for a single member. You may find yourself in a position to recognize grief in someone else. If so, remember to listen first. If you feel like they are struggling and you are worried about them, please recommend one of the resources above. Or, if the situation is particularly concerning, don’t be afraid to seek help on their behalf. Contacting an adult (parent, counselor, or teacher) is a good first step.
Click here to download a handout - "When Terrible Things Happen" - from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Support after/during a loss can come from a number of different sources:
Friends: Let people who care about you take care of you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Especially when you live away from family, true friends can offer shoulders for you to cry on until you begin to recover.
Family: Death can create a path for reunion, and even reconciliation, among surviving relatives and friends. (It can also tear families apart, especially in the case of a sudden or violent death, so it’s important to be sensitive to one another’s approaches to grief and to refrain from accusation.) Sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry. Reminiscing about the person all of you lost may help everyone recover. If you’ve lost a friend or spouse, family members can form a caring community.
Your faith community: If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Allow people within your religious community to give you emotional support. If you’re estranged from your faith community or have none, this may be a good time to reconnect or to explore alternatives.
Support groups: There are many support groups for people who are grieving, including specialized groups (such as, people who have lost children, survivors of suicides, etc).
Therapists and other professionals: Talking with a psychotherapist or grief counselor may be a good idea if the intensity of your grief doesn’t diminish over time — that is, months go by and you still have physical symptoms, such as trouble with eating or sleeping; or your emotional state impairs your ability to go about your daily routine.
Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. One of the key elements of healthy grieving is allowing your emotions to surface in order to work through them. In the long run, trying to suppress your feelings in the hope that they’ll fade with time won’t work. Blocking the grieving process will delay or disable your ability to eventually recovery.
If people don’t know what they can do to help, tell them — whether it’s going with you to a movie, cooking a meal for you, or just holding you as you cry. If someone is uncomfortable with your displays of emotion or your need to talk about the person you lost, gently let him or her know that talking out your grief is part of your healing process.
There are generally five stages of grief and bereavement, categorized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
The stages of grief and loss may include the following:
- Denial and isolation
People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them. There are many resources available - this is a good place to start, with examples/elaboration on each stage. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/