When the word Grief is used it is most commonly associated with death and dying. However grief occurs whenever there is change that creates a loss of something or someone we cherish or we something we feel is important in our lives.
Grief is a part of life.
Grief and Joy go hand in hand. You can’t open your heart to loving some-one or or being attached to something without experiencing the grief of the loss of that connection.
Different Kinds of Loss
Feelings of loss are very personal, and only you know what is significant to you. People commonly associate certain losses with strong feelings of grief.
These can include:
- Death of a partner.
- Death of a family member.
- Death of a close friend.
- Death of a classmate or colleague.
- Serious illness of a loved one.
- Relationship breakup.
- Loss of an important friendship.
Subtle or less obvious losses can also cause strong feelings of grief, even though those around you may not know the extent of your feelings. Some examples include:
- Leaving home
- Illness/loss of health
- Death of a pet
- Change of job
- Move to a new home
- Graduation from school
- Loss of a physical ability
- Loss of financial security
- Loss of a current role or identity
- Life Transitions
Sudden versus Predictable Loss
Sudden or shocking losses due to events like sudden onset of life threatening illness such as heart attack or stroke, crimes, accidents, or suicide can be traumatic. There is no way to prepare. They can challenge your sense of security and confidence in the predictability of life. You may experience symptoms such as sleep disturbance, nightmares, distressing thoughts, depressed mood, social isolation, or severe anxiety.
Predictable losses, like those due to terminal illness, sometimes allow more time to prepare for the loss. However, they create two layers of grief: the grief related to the anticipation of the loss and the grief related to the loss itself.
How Long Does Grief Last?
The length of the grief process is different for everyone. There is no predictable schedule for grief. Although it can be quite painful at times, the grief process should not be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself as you experience your unique reactions to the loss. With time and support, things generally do get better. However, it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders to trigger feelings related to the loss. Taking care of yourself, seeking support, and acknowledging your feelings during these times are ways that can help you cope.
Normal Grief Reactions
When experiencing grief, it is common to:
- Feel like you are “going crazy”
- Feeling “split” so that when you are with others, the outside you feels different to the inside you.
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Feel sad or depressed
- Be irritable or angry (at the deceased, oneself, others, higher powers)
- Feel frustrated or misunderstood
- Experience anxiety, nervousness, or fearfulness
- Feel like you want to “escape”
- Experience guilt or remorse
- Be ambivalent
- Feel numb
- Lack energy and motivation
Grief as a Process of Healing
It is important to note that the grief process is not linear, but is more often experienced in cycles. The Important thing to remember is that it IS a process and there is an end to the process. The other thing to remember is that there is no way around grief, you can’t go under it or over it; you HAVE to go thru it.
Grief is sometimes compared to climbing a spiral staircase where things can look and feel like you are just going in circles, yet you are actually making progress. Being patient with the process and allowing yourself to have any feelings about the loss can help. If you feel stuck in your grief, talking to a counselor or a supportive person may help you move forward in the healing process.
Culture, Rituals, and Ceremonies
Your cultural background can affect how you understand and approach the grief process. Some cultures anticipate a time to grieve and have developed rituals to help people through the grief process. Grief rituals and ceremonies acknowledge the pain of loss while also offering social support and a reaffirmation of life.
You may not be aware of how your own cultural background.
Stages of Grief
The grieving process is not linear. Nevertheless, the wisdom of the stages of grief in Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s classic book “ On Death and Dying” is still a good guide. These stages are passed through and revisited often at various times, especially at anniversaries, holidays and any circumstance that serves as a reminder of the loss.
STAGE 1: SHOCK / DENIAL / DISBELIEF
This is the Shock stage where it doesn’t feel quite real. There is often a need to tell and retell the details of the story of loss. There are different levels of distance from the emotional response (from your body):
- Denial: This can’t possibly have happened; It can’t be true.
- Delusion: This happened, however it didn’t have any effect on me.
- Dissociation: This happened, however it is as if I am watching from a distance… I am removed from the scene… I can’t be hurt by it..
STAGE 2: SADNESS / GRIEF / DESPAIR
As soon as you have moved out of the frozen state and can feel your body then you have moved into stage 2 and 3.
There is nothing so painful and lonely as being cut off from people, animals or places that have previously helped you to feel safe and connected. Feelings of despair and powerlessness flow.
STAGE 3: ANGER / RESENTMENT/ POWERLESSNESS
This includes irritability, frustration, emptiness and disappointment. It can ‘spill’ out at anytime onto anyone.
STAGE 4: BARGAINING / “WHAT IF…” / ” IF ONLY…”
This is the stage where you pine for the stability you had and begin to wonder .. “What if I had…… If only I didn’t….. etc.” The predominant feelings at this stage are guilt and shame for things done or said that you wish you hadn’t said or done, and for things left un-said and un-done.
STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE / MOVING ON
At this stage you have faced the reality of what has happened and can move on with life with peace of mind, openness, vitality and purpose. This feels very different from”Just get over it” or “It’s time to move on,” when the feelings haven’t been expressed and are buried inside.
It means that the energy bound up in the shock and grief reactions has been freed so that there is an authenic sense of completion. Pain and other feeling will still emerge from time to time, however they will no longer have their immobilising intensity.
How Long Does Grief Last?
The length of the grief process is different for everyone. There is no predictable schedule for grief. Although it can be quite painful at times, the grief process should not be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself as you experience your unique reactions to the loss. With time and support, things generally do get better. However, it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders to trigger feelings related to the loss. Taking care of yourself, seeking support, and acknowledging your feelings during these times are all ways that can help you cope.
How to support yourself or someone else going through Grief.
HOW TO SUPPORT in STAGE 1:
- Watch for signs of shock: ( Shallow Breathing, Wide Staring eyes, Blankness; No apparent reaction.)
- Ground yourself and stay present beside them. This will give the unspoken message that they are safe and supported.
- Encourage time out to sit
- Encourage them to notice how hot or cold they are.
- Begin to notice other body sensations… this will have the effect of ‘thawing” the “freeze” that the body has gone into.
HOW TO SUPPORT in STAGES 2 & 3:
- Don’t take it personally, if the person in grief is venting their anger on you.
- Stay present to your own body reactions. Feel your feet on the floor and check for your own body sensations. (eg. What temperature are your hands right now)
- Encourage flow of feelings. Normalise it. (e.g.“It’s perfectly natural to feel devastated/ angry/ lonely when you’ve lost your best friend.”)
- Encourage them to notice the sensations in their body. (“ You say you are angry. Where do you feel that anger in your body? What colour would it be? What temperature is it? What other sensations do you have in your body?.. etc”)
- Feelings come in waves. Many people are afraid to allow the flow for the fear that they will be swamped or even ‘drown’ in it. When you allow the wave to flow then it wont feel so big and overwhelming. You will still be able to function as normal between the waves.
- Stop any thinking spirals about the future. Tune back into the present and into the body sensations. Reassure.(“You only have to cope with now… just this minute… just this day… stay present.”)
HOW TO SUPPORT in STAGE 4:
- Encourage/ Allow expression of all the things they are sorry about…imagine the reply.
- Encourage/ Allow reminiscence of all the good times together.
- Encourage/ Allow Expression of Hurt and Anger for any wrong or unfairness done to you by that person or God.
- Continue with this process until forgiveness comes naturally.
- Encourage Forgiveness of self or others and let go of striving for things to be different from how they are.
Useful things to support yourself in Grief
- Talk to family or friends
- Seek counseling
- Read poetry or books
- Engage in social activities
- Eat healthy, good foods
- Seek spiritual support
- Take time to relax
- Join a support group
- Listen to music
- Be patient with yourself
- Practice ‘being’ present to everything around you.
- Let yourself feel the emotions.
To One In Sorrow
Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours, can understand.
Let me come in — I would be very still beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears bring relief. Let me come in — and hold your hand,
For I have known a sorrow such as yours,
-Grace Noll Crowell