What is Grief?
If you are reading this you have probably suffered a loss and possibly experiencing deep sadness as a result of loss. This emotion is grief. Painful but natural, in most cases a healthy response to a loss. Grieving should not be prevented or avoided, rather it should be respected. This means allow it and respect it as part of the healing process. Those of us who experience grief and even embrace it, still need family and friends to support them through the process. Knowing when grief occurs, how long it lasts, what stages to expect, how to begin the process and what complications can occur, are all part of healing or supporting a friend or family member.
When does grief occur?
Whether pain due to loss is referred to as mourning, grieving or bereavement there are good reasons for it. Some reasons are:
- The death of a loved one.
- Loss of health/chronic disease reducing the quality of life.
- Loss of an important relationship.
Are there different kinds of grief?
We all experience grief differently which means that outwardly behaviors may differ; some may cry while others fall silent. When my mother died I thought my dad held no love for her because he did not cry, while I sobbed incessantly. Later I realized that he withdrew, sitting head in hands, absorbed in his memories and grief, because this was the way he dealt with the loss of his deeply loved wife.
Where our external reactions to loss are different, our emotional and psychological responses are the same or similar. Research by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross shows that we go through five stages of grieving. Once loss is recognized you can move through stages to a place of acceptance, and accepting reality does not mean diminished love.
Sometimes death is expected and feelings of relief occur hand-in-hand with grief, especially if the loved one was suffering, as was the case with my mother who was inflicted with a chronic illness. In this case, feelings of loss start long before the passing. In this case acceptance occurs sooner. If death is without warning or under violent circumstances, acceptance could take longer.
What stages and feelings to expect?
The five stages Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.
Going through the stages, depending on the person, do not always occur in a specific order. Sometimes, just when you think you are done with a stage, it recurs. Also, feelings from various stages can occur at the same time.
All these variations, unfortunately, are normal. Grief is normal. Grief, churning on the inside, can manifest into symptoms on the outside, some being sleep and appetite disturbances, incessant crying, withdrawal, and/or preoccupation with the deceased.
How to begin to heal?
Time heals all wounds is the cliché that tends to be true, but only because time allows us to move through the stages to acceptance, that is if we allow it. Acute grief usually lasts about two months but milder symptoms can last about a year, sometimes more.
It is important to recognize that most grief feelings and symptoms are normal, in the meantime, some things that may help are:
- Jot down your thought and don't worry about spelling and grammar, just get it down. Sometimes even write to the deceased. Just get your feelings out as this process tends to surface thoughts you didn't know you had. Gradually, write more and more about positive memories and thoughts. Even a eulogy expressing memories helps begin the healing process.
- Read, as you are doing now, about grief and healing.
- If forgiveness is warranted, make a conscious effort to give it.
- Meditate if it suits your personality, and if it doesn't, give it a try anyway.
- Take physical care of yourself - healthy eating, proper sleep, and exercise.
- See your family doctor if you can't deal with grief, are self medicating with drugs or alcohol, are very depressed, or if depression interferes with daily living. Your doctor will probably ask you questions - be sure you are forthcoming about everything. They may run some tests or make recommendations that will help. They will also know of mental health professionals who can assist if necessary. Psychological help is especially important for those who cannot experience a grief reaction or who cannot move through the stages.
- Clergy, meet-up groups, grieving support groups, and supportive friends are all options.
Are complications possible?
Awareness of complications means awareness of symptoms that affect overall health. Grief can lead to depression which can bring about excessive alcohol or drug use. If severe grief interferes with daily living and lasts for more than two months it could mean a major depression. Medical help is a must and be aware that medication may be needed to break the cycle.
The end or maybe the beginning.