Losing a loved one, whether through unexpected or anticipated circumstances, is always traumatic and can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Adjusting to the new situation while being challenged by a multitude, urgent questions and decisions can be overwhelming. In addition, a wide array of emotions can be experienced, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt and despair. All these feelings are normal parts of grieving, yet these feelings are hard to process and accept.
Whether you grieve the death of a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a colleague, a partner, a relative or any some your care for, bereavement is better when someone is providing professional support or someone that is present to see and feel your tears and fears. It is important to be validated through the process of grieving, understanding the personal stories, to help process the mourning. It is also helpful to create rituals, fill the void and establish new or strong bonds, to bear witness to your loss. The importance of having a safe place for grieving and ultimately healing process is paramount in building your resiliency and overcome the loss.
Individuals experience grief in their own unique way, partly based on religious, cultural, social, and personal beliefs and partly because of the relationship with the person who died. The process of bereavement requires time and support. spiral2grow of New York City can guide and help you through the grieving process to make it more complete and more positive.
Grief and Loss Overview
Losing someone or something you love is very painful – and it’s something that almost everyone will experience at some point in their lives. Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is a major life challange. Loss that goes unacknowledged or unattended can result in serious emotional problem and even physical difficulty. But grief that is expressed and experienced constructively has a potential for healing and eventually can strengthen and enrich life. There is no right or wrong way to grieve – but there are ways to make the grieving more complete and more positive.
It is important to note that you have a lifetime of memories with your loved one. The process of bereavement does not happen quickly. Therefore, allow yourself the time to grieve your loss and to create a special place in your heart and mind for your memories. It is healing to share painful feelings of grief and loss with others, rather than remain isolated. Therefore, seek out family, friends, therapists, clergy, and others who understand your loss and can support you through this difficult time.
Few comments about the grieving process
- It is normal and necessary to experience intense emotional sensations in order to heal properly.
- Feelings of guilt, embarrassment and anger are part of the restorative process.
- Each person grieves differently.
- There is no set timetable for bereavement.
Stages of Bereavement and Grief
Bereavement has four basic phases which typically occur:
- Numbness and shock – usually occurs in the beginning and lasts a brief period. It is useful in helping people function through the initially funeral time period.
- Feeling of separation – when the feeling of loss or missing the loved one starts to occur.
- Disorganization – time period when the bereaved is easily distracted and might have difficulty concentrating or may feel restless.
- Reorganization – toward the end of the bereavement period when the person has begun to adjust to life without the loved one.
The psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, introduced the following “five stages of grief:”
- Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
- Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
- Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
- Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what is going to happen/has happened.”
However, Kübler-Ross added that there are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as unique as our individual lives.
Also, there is no timetable for grieving. While the sense of loss and the irregular sadness may never go away completely, people experience the cycle of grief differently. Some find that within a few weeks or months the period between waves of distress lengthens, and they are able to feel peace, renewed hope, and enjoy life more and more of the time. Others may face years of being hit with what feels like relentless waves of grief.
Coping with Grief and Loss
One of the most important factors in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it is important to talk about them when you are grieving. Knowing that others know and understand your grieving will make you feel better, less alone with your pain, and will help you heal. Support after loss can come from a number of different sources:
- Friends – Let people who care about you take care of you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Especially when you live away from family, true friends can offer shoulders for you to cry on until you begin to recover.
- Family – The death of a relative can create a path for reunion, and even reconciliation, among surviving relatives. (It can also tear families apart, especially in the case of a sudden or violent death, so it’s important to be sensitive to one another’s approaches to grief and to refrain from judgment.) Sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry. Reminiscing about the person all of you lost may help everyone recover. If you’ve lost a friend or spouse, family members can form a caring community.
- Your faith community – If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Allow people within your religious community to give you emotional support. If you’re estranged from your faith community or have none, this may be a good time to reconnect or to explore alternatives.
- Support groups – There are many support groups for people who are grieving, including specialized groups (such as, people who have lost children, survivors of suicides). Bereavement support groups provide a place to talk about grief, fears, and other feelings which can be there after the death of a loved one. Groups also help people learn from the experiences of others and are very beneficial for all participants, particularly children and teenagers.
- Therapists and other professionals – Talking with a psychotherapist or grief counselor may be a good idea if the intensity of your grief doesn’t diminish over time and you still have physical symptoms, such as trouble with eating or sleeping; or your emotional state impairs your ability to go about your daily routine.
- Books and journals. There are a wide variety of books available for people experiencing loss. Many people who are bereaved find these types of books to be helpful, especially those written by individuals who have experienced a similar loss themselves. Some books are mentioned in the resources below.
- Organizations for the bereaved. There are many outstanding organizations that serve individuals who suffer loss and support them through the process of bereavement. A few of them are listed in the resources below.
Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. One of the key elements of healthy grieving is allowing your emotions to surface in order to work through them. In the long run, trying to suppress your feelings in the hope that they’ll fade with time won’t work. Blocking the grieving process will delay or disable your ability to eventually recovery.
If people don’t know what they can do to help, tell them – whether it’s going with you to a movie, cooking a meal for you, or just holding you as you cry. If someone is uncomfortable with your displays of emotion or your need to talk about the person you lost, gently let him or her know that talking out your grief is part of your healing process.
Grief and Loss Self Help
Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Talk about the person who died, if you want to—even though it may be painful, talking about particular memories can be healing. Write about your loved one in a journal, or write the person a letter saying the things you never got to say. Create a scrapbook or artwork about the person; create an appropriate memorial in his or her honor (for example, if the person loved flowers, plant or fund a garden); get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
Take care of yourself physically. Get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and engage in regular exercise. Do not use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially. (That may even apply to antidepressants meant to ease the sadness of grief; because grief, unlike depression, is not a disorder, masking the pain with meds may be less productive than working through the sadness.) Healthy habits will help you with grieving, but substance use will impede recovery and can lead to long-term dependence. Start with an activity which was relaxing—this can help in the beginning to get back to a normal cycle, and it can provide some stability and familiarity.
Don’t let other people tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” At the same time, it’s okay to be angry at the person who died, to cry every day if you need to, to yell at the heavens without being embarrassed. Conversely, it’s okay to laugh, too. If watching the entire work of the Marx Brothers helps you heal, no one has the right to tell you it’s inappropriate.
Support group – If helpful, go to a support group—many people find groups to be a helpful place to talk about their grief.
Plan ahead. Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones in life can be particularly challenging. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.
- Bereaved children and teens: A support guide for parents and professionals – by Grollman, This book is a guide to helping children and teens cope with the religious, physical, and emotional aspects of the death of a loved one.
- When parents die: A guide for adults – By Edward Myers. Edward Myers is a journalist who experienced the deaths of both his parents. This guide is a good resource and covers both emotional and practical issues, such as estates and funerals.
- The healing journey through grief: Your journal for reflection and recovery – by Rich, P. This journal has guided entries to move through bereavement. Healing is accomplished through writing.
- Understanding grief: Helping yourself heal – by Wolfelt. This book discusses the myths about grieving, how to provide self-care during the bereavement time, when to seek help, and guidelines for support groups.
- Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A – www.bereavedparentsusa.org – National support group for parents, grandparents and siblings.
- Compassionate Friends – www.compassionatefriends.org – Largest self-help organization for bereaved parents. Nonprofit, self-help support organization open to all bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings.
- Coping With Bereavement – Succinct and caring site about grieving and coping with loss.
- Grief Support – This site provides insights into grieving and the grief process. A companion page contains detailed information about children’s grief.
- On Being Alone: A Guide for the Newly Widowed and Seven Choices of Grief – A comprehensive series of articles on grief and loss offering practical, as well as psychological advice.
- Grief after Suicide – Survivors of suicide and their friends can help each other and themselves by gaining an understanding of grief after suicide.
- Grief after Suicide Understanding your emotions, as well as suicide in general, may ease your grieving after suicide.