Grief : loss, mourning
“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.”
– E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly,
Grief – intense sorrow – is a natural response to loss, especially if caused by someone’s death.
It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one – and this type of loss does often cause the most intense grief. Break-up relationships and divorce also causes people to mourn loss – even in children. There is no time limit for mourning – as long as you keep on moving through the different stages. Problems arise when people get stuck in one phase.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Our reaction to grief is unique – as unique as the person experiencing them. Generally the following 5 stages can be identified in by people who are grieving and they do not appear in a defined sequence: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Loss. The 5 stages should be seen as a process of learning to live without the one we lost.
The Five Stages of grief, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In no defined sequence, general individual experience of most of these stages occurs when faced with the reality of their impending death or that of a loved one. The reactions to illness, death, and loss are as unique as the person experiencing them.
1. Denial and Isolation
Often the first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. Denial is triggered by a feeling of being overwhelmed and in shock by the news. We block out the words and hide from the facts because it is too much to bear. This is a temporary response till reality sets in.
Another emotion that often surfaces is anger. It might be immediate or it might appear much later. People’s anger may be aimed at themselves (guilt driven) – thinking they could have or should have prevented the death or loss. Or it is aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family, or at our dying or deceased loved one. This is despite knowing the person is not to blame.
Often people negotiate with God to rather take them (trading places) or they make promises what they would do if God only spared the dying or critically ill person’s life. Or:” if God can only intervene and stop my parents from getting a divorce.”
It is a normal reaction and the purpose of it is a need to regain control.
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
- If only I said no when he asked to go out.
- If only I had been a better behaved child – my parents wouldn’t be getting a divorce..
- If only I did more to save my marriage…
We might be trying to make deals with God to reverse what happened.
The hurt and sadness that comes with loss at first is so deep and so painful that it might feel that it will never end. It feels if there is no way the intense pain will ever go away. The intense pain can cause people to feel they want to give up on life just to end the pain. The sadness and crying can take a long time to become softer – but it does eventually lose it’s intensity. You need to allow yourself to be sad and cry – God gave us tears for a reason – to heal. If you allow yourself to experience the emotions you will eventually move through the stage of sadness and depression. Periods of sadness will space out and later it will only return on special days of remembrance or with certain memories.
Usually two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a good cry and a hug.
Not everyone reaches this stage. There are many people who never forget and who never truly accept the loss. For others it might take years to get to acceptance. We might accept the impending death of a loved one, or the death of a person, more easily if they are in severe pain or suffering as with cancer patients. On the other hand it might be more difficult to accept losing someone suddenly for example in a accident. We go through a grief process to accept a failed romance or relationship.
6. Finding meaning
Recently a sixth stage has been added by David Kessler. After the sudden loss of his son who was 21 years old David wrote a book on the 6th stage of grief, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. He says the following:
“meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
He states that healing often only takes place in the sixth stage. A person who lost a family member to suicide might find healing through starting a support group for parents who also lost someone to suicide. Or where a child died of a drug overdose an person might start a campaign against drug dealers and abuse in their community. The action they take helps to heal the wound of loss, gives sense to what happened and value to the deceased person’s life and death.
It is important to go through the grief process, not around it. Acceptance will only come if you work through it.
Grief & Depression: what is the difference?
Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference. Grief is a multifaceted response. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. Depression sufferers have constant feelings of emptiness and despair.
Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:
- Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Slow speech and body movements
- Inability to function at work, home, and/or school
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there – delusions
Anti-depressants: will they help me cope better with grief?
As a general rule, normal grief does not warrant the use of antidepressants. While medication may relieve some of the symptoms of grief, it cannot treat the cause, which is the loss itself. Furthermore, by numbing the pain that must be worked through eventually, antidepressants delay the mourning process.
IT’S BEEN YEARS… I am still grieving?
It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.
Symptoms of complicated grief :
- Intense longing and yearning for the deceased
- Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
- Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
- Imagining that your loved one is alive
- Searching for the person in familiar places
- Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
- Extreme anger or bitterness over the loss
- Feeling that life is empty or meaningless