“It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward.”
~ Patti Davis
Grief – intense sorrow – is a natural response to loss, primarily caused by someone’s death.
Grief is the emotional suffering you feel when you lose someone or something (pet) you love. Traumatic surgery can also cause intense feelings of loss, for example, amputation or mastectomy. However, the death of a loved one often causes the most intense anguish. Break-up relationships and divorce also causes people to mourn the loss – even in children.
“I will never be the same again…”
Most persons who have experienced loss share the statement above. Grief is change. We didn’t plan or ask for the loss we experienced that caused the change. Most of the time, our new normal” is intolerable to bear because it all happens at once. We yearn to be the same person we were before – but the change is permanent. Few other things in life change and mould us as loss does. It is futile to hope things go back to how they were and that you will be the same person as before. A better approach would be to make sense of what happened and eventually embrace the change.
Note: There is no time limit for mourning loss – as long as you keep on moving through the different stages of grief. Problems arise when people get stuck in one phase.
The five stages of grief
Our reaction to grief is unique – as unique as the person experiencing them. Generally, the following five stages can be identified in grieving people and do not appear in a defined sequence: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Loss. Instead, we should view the five stages of grief as learning to live without the person we lost.
The Five Stages of Grief includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In no defined sequence, most of these stages’ broad individual experience occurs when faced with the reality of their impending death or that of a loved one. Thus, the reactions to illness, death, and loss are unique as those 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 situation’s reality. Feelings of being overwhelmed and shocked triggers denial. We block out the words and hide from the facts because it is too much to bear. Until reality sets in, denial is the transient response.
Another emotion that often surfaces is anger. It might be immediate, or it might appear much later. Anger aimed at themselves (guilt-driven) means a person feels they could have or should have prevented the death or loss. Or it is aimed at inanimate objects, strangers, friends or family, or our dying or deceased loved one. Again, it occurs despite the person knowing they are not to blame.
Often people negotiate with God to instead take them (trading places), or they make promises about 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 its purpose 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 are so deep and painful that it might feel that it will never end. It seems as if there is no way the intense pain will ever go away. The severe pain can cause people to give up on life to end the pain. The sadness and crying can take a long time to become softer, but it eventually loses 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 particular days of remembrance or with specific memories. Sometimes all we need is a good cry and a hug
Not everyone reaches this stage. Many people never forget and never truly accept the loss. For others, it might take years to get to acceptance. We might come to terms with the impending death of a loved one, or the death of a person, with more ease 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 an accident. We go through a grief process to endure 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 happens to everyone in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
He states that healing often only takes place in the sixth stage. For example, a person who lost a family member to suicide might find healing by starting a support group for parents who also lost someone to suicide. Or, where a child died of a drug overdose, a person might start a campaign against drug dealers and abuse in their community. Their action helps heal the wound of loss and gives sense to what happened and value to the deceased person’s life and death.
It is essential 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. On the other hand, depression sufferers have constant feelings of emptiness and despair.
Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:
- An 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 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 anti-depressants. While medication may relieve some of the suffering symptoms, it cannot treat the cause, which is the loss itself. Furthermore, by numbing the grieving person’s pain, anti-depressants delay mourning.
When time passes, and 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 signify that your grief has developed into a more severe 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
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