Published: August 28. 2023.
Dealing with Sorrow and Grief after the Loss of a Loved One
The pain that comes with the death of a loved one can be overwhelming, and it often presents itself in various forms, from sadness and anger to guilt or even numbness. Every individual's grief journey is unique, but understanding more about the grieving process and seeking appropriate avenues of support can help you navigate this challenging time.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. In order to cope with grief, it is beneficial to understand your emotions and place them into categories. This may also open up for the true idea, that these are common struggles and one is never alone, despite feeling like that. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, introduced the widely recognized Five Stages of Grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are used to understand the complex journey individuals often go through after facing significant loss or trauma. However, it's essential to understand that not everyone will go through all these stages or in this order. Some might linger in one phase, skip another, experience them differently and naturally also head into other phases. Let's briefly go through these stages here:
- Denial: The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or news of death is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality. They may feel numb or shocked. Denial is a defense mechanism that helps numb the emerging shock of the loss, blocking out the more immediate pain. As the individual begins to process the reality of their situation, the denial and shock start to fade.
- Anger: When the denial stage subsides, the pain re-emerges. To cope with this pain, people often display anger. It's not uncommon for this anger to be projected onto inanimate objects, strangers, friends, or family. They might ask questions like "Why me?" or "How can this happen?". This intense emotion is a natural part of the grieving process and should not be bottled up. Recognizing and accepting this anger is a crucial aspect of the healing process, and everyone around you will forgive when times get easier.
- Bargaining: The bargaining stage is characterized by an attempt to negotiate with a higher power or the universe. People facing death might promise to live better lives if they can just live longer. Those mourning the loss of a loved one might think thoughts like, "If only we had gotten medical attention sooner," or "If only I had been there." Guilt often accompanies bargaining, as the individual believes they could have done something different to prevent the loss.
- Depression: Also referred to as the preparatory grieving stage, this isn't necessarily a clinical depression but rather, as Kubler-Ross referred to it, a sort of "quiet sadness". It involves the grieving person beginning to come to terms with the reality of their situation or loss. Feelings of emptiness and despair are prominent. It's essential to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness; it's a natural and appropriate response to grief - and it will fade eventually.
- Acceptance: The final stage of the grieving process is characterized by acceptance and a sense of calm. This doesn't mean that the grieving person is okay with what has happened, but rather that they've accepted it as a reality. It's not a period of happiness but rather an understanding. Some people never reach this stage, which is okay. Grief is deeply personal, and everyone processes it in their own way.
To reiterate, these stages are not experienced by everyone in the same way. Some might skip stages, experience them out of order, or might not go through them at all. They are merely a framework to aid understanding and are not prescriptive. Everyone's experience with grief is valid, no matter how it unfolds.
How to Overcome the Loss?
Grieving is a deeply personal experience, and while the pain might seem hard to overcome at first, there are coping mechanisms that can help individuals navigate the waters of sorrow and loss. These coping strategies aren't a way to "cure" grief, but rather they provide support to ease the journey.
- Seeking Support:
Trusted Individuals: Sharing feelings and memories with close friends or family can be comforting. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there to listen can make a significant difference. By talking about your memories and emotions, you both process thoughts and achieve a sense of not being alone.
Support Groups: Being part of a group where members have experienced similar losses can be therapeutic. It reminds individuals that they're not alone in their feelings. Many organizations offer bereavement groups that meet in person or online.
Therapy and Counseling: Professionals trained in grief therapy can provide valuable tools and perspectives to help individuals process their emotions. They can offer an objective, non-judgmental space to share and explore feelings.
- Accepting Your Feelings:
Journaling: Writing can be a therapeutic outlet for grief. It provides a space to express feelings, document memories, or even write letters to the departed. As with talking to other people, this helps process thoughts and memories.
Artistic Expression: Engaging in creative activities like painting, drawing, music, or even dance can serve as an emotional outlet and a way to commemorate and remember the deceased.
- Taking Care of Yourself:
Routine: Maintaining a semblance of a routine can provide stability during tumultuous times. Simple daily rituals can be grounding.
Physical Activity: Even gentle exercises like walking can release endorphins - natural mood lifters. Yoga and meditation can also help in staying connected with oneself.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol: While they might seem to provide a temporary respite, they can exacerbate feelings of sadness, anger, and isolation.
- Remembering Your Loved One:
Memorialization: Creating a memorial or tribute can be therapeutic. This can be in the form of planting a tree, creating a scrapbook, or even starting a charity in their name.
Anniversary Traditions: Honoring anniversaries or special dates can become a tradition, reminding one of the love and memories shared.
- Setting Small Goals:
Daily Tasks: Setting small, achievable goals each day can give a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It could be as simple as cooking a meal, reading a chapter of a book, or taking a walk.
Avoiding Major Decisions: It's advisable to delay major decisions (like moving homes or significant financial decisions) immediately after the loss, as grief can cloud judgment. If urgent, allow friends or family to make decisions, and always accept their choices later.
- Avoiding Isolation:
While solitude is necessary for reflection and processing, prolonged isolation can be harmful. Spending time with loved ones or even pets can provide warmth and comfort.
Engaging in Social Activities: Gradually participating in social activities, even if it's just a short visit with a neighbor or attending a local event, can help in reintroducing normalcy.
- Educate Yourself:
Understanding the grieving process can make it less intimidating. Reading books or articles on grief can offer insights and comfort.
Remember, grieving is not about "moving on" from a loved one but "moving forward" with their memories. It's okay to seek professional help if coping becomes too challenging. Everyone's journey through grief is unique, and there's no prescribed way to mourn. It's crucial to find coping mechanisms that resonate personally and offer solace.
Prolonged or complicated grief can sometimes occur. This is when an individual's ability to function is impaired by prolonged grief symptoms. If you're feeling stuck, or if your grief is getting worse over time instead of better, it might be time to seek professional help, which is all natural and okay.
When to Seek Professional Help
It's essential to recognize when you might need additional help. Consider seeking professional assistance if:
You feel like life isn't worth living or have suicidal thoughts.
You're unable to perform daily tasks or care for yourself.
Your grief continues to be intense, prolonged, and debilitating.
You resort to excessive alcohol or drug use as a coping mechanism.
How Others Can Help
If you're supporting someone grieving:
Listen Actively: Sometimes, being there and listening is more valuable than offering advice.
Avoid Cliches: Phrases like "They're in a better place" might not offer comfort and might seem dismissive.
Offer Practical Help: Sometimes, grieving individuals might need help with daily tasks.
Check-in Regularly: Grief doesn't have a set timeline. Check on your loved one weeks or even months after the loss.
The loss of a loved one is one of life's most challenging experiences. However, you are not alone. Even in times when the world seems to fight you, people only wish you the best. Remember that it's okay to seek help, lean on others, and take the time you need to heal. Your grief journey is personal, and moving forward doesn't mean forgetting, but rather finding a new way to remember and honor your loved one.
Our Recommendations for Further Reading:
If you are currently struggling with, or have already overcome, loss - and would like to share your story or tips, we would love to hear from you. We often update articles with input from our readers, or even share their stories if wished to.
- "On Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss" by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler: This book further elaborates on the five stages of grief and provides insights into the grieving process.
- "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion: This autobiographical work captures Didion's journey through grief after the sudden death of her husband while their only daughter lay critically ill. A poignant exploration of personal grief.
- The Good Grief Network: An international organization that offers a 10-step program to help people build resilience and adaptability in a chaotic and uncertain world. It provides a community for collective grief and societal anxiety.