According to the Webster’s dictionary, grief is defined as the pain of mind on account of something in the past; mental suffering arising from any cause, as misfortune, loss of friends, misconduct of one’s self or others, etc.; sorrow; sadness. Grief is the mess of feelings we get when we lose someone or something, feelings like: shock, numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, mixed with small moments of relief, peace, and happiness. While all these feelings can be overwhelming, they are normal and they are needful; it is how we process loss.
- Divorce or relationship breakup
- Loss of health
- Losing a job and loss of financial stability
- A miscarriage
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a cherished dream
- A loved one’s serious illness
- Loss of a friendship
- Loss of safety after a trauma
- Selling the family home or moving to another city/town
Grief is hard and it certainly is not fun. The truth of the matter is many people are not equipped or “ready” to deal with grief, so they seek out information to help them cope and may come across contradictory advice. Let me list the ones that do not work.
- The pain will go away faster if you ignore it. The truth is that trying to ignore your pain will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing to happen, it is necessary for you to acknowledge your pain and actively deal with it. Just know that it is OK and very normal to feel sad!
- It’s important to be strong for yourself and for others. It is normal to feel sad, frightened, or lonely when faced with loss. Crying DOES NOT mean you are weak. It is not your job to protect your family or friends by pretending to be brave. Showing your true feelings can help them and you. This is especially important when there are small children involved. They need to know that it is normal to feels sad and cry and chances are high that you would validate their feelings and support them in their pain. YOU DESERVE THIS TOO!
If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss. While crying is a relatively normal response to sadness; it’s not the only one. People show grief in different ways. What works for one does not necessarily work for someone else. It is OK to grieve the way that feels right for you!
- Grieving should last about a year. There is no time frame and length of time it takes differs from person to person.
- Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss. Moving on means you’ve accepted your loss; not forgotten it. It is completely normal to move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you. The truth is these memories can become the most important way that we define ourselves.
Other helpful things to remember while you move through your grief is:
- First and foremost, acknowledge your pain and accept that you are in pain. It is OK!
- Be aware that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster!
- Your grieving process will be unique to you. There is no right way or wrong way.
- Find support from people who care about you.
- Support yourself by taking care of yourself physically. This one will feel hard but it is very important that your physical self is maintained.
- While this one is more difficult, try to recognize the difference between grief and depression and if you don’t know, ask a professional.
There are 5 stages to grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While Kubler-Ross created this to help explain grief, it was for the grief someone goes through when they find out they are dying. Still, it is helpful in explaining what grief can look like and what you might expect when experiencing grief.
- Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
- Anger – When denial of the situation is no longer an option, a person will become frustrated. “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
- Bargaining – This stage involves the hope that an individual will not have to experience grief. An individual will attempt to negotiate for an extended life in exchange for something important to them. For example, a person could negotiate with God to attend a daughter’s wedding in exchange for a reformed lifestyle, or say things such as “If I could trade their life for mine”.
- Depression – Loss of hope, “why bother?”
Other emotional symptoms you can experience includes:
- Shock and disbelief. This is part of the denial stage. It can be hard to believe that someone you lost is gone; that it really happened. You still expect them to see them; to tell you it was a mistake.
- Sadness. This is the stage of depression and is the most universally experienced symptom of grief. Feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness may be experienced during this time and you may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
- Guilt. You may feel regret or feel guilty about things said or not said, things you did or did not do. You may also feel guilty about feeling relieved if the person died after a long, difficult illness.
- Anger. You may feel angry and resentful. Depending on the circumstances you may be angry with yourself, at God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you.
- Trigger fears about your own mortality and make you question your abilities to deal with things yourself.
To help support yourself through your grief in the best way possible, remember to embrace your feelings; it is ok!
Try expressing them through journaling, writing a letter to yourself or loved one, or scrap book a celebration of the life that was lost. Try to maintain hobbies and interests; there is comfort in routine and doing the things that give us joy. Plan ahead for your grief triggers; this includes all holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. Talk to friend and family who may participate in get togethers; let them know what you are comfortable with talking about. Emotional symptoms can turn into physical symptoms over time. These can include feeling unbelievably tired, nauseous, easily catching colds, weight loss or gain, aches and pains in various parts of your body, and sleeping to much or too little.
Sometimes our grief can turn into depression and it isn’t always easy to tell the difference. Grief can be a roller coaster of emotions and you will experience good and bad days. Symptoms that may suggest that you have moved into a depression, include:
- Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
- Feel like life isn’t worth living
- Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
- Feel numb or disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Slow speech and body movements; feeling lethargic
- Unable to function normally at home, work, or school
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
If you question if your grief has turned into depression, consult with your doctor. I have had clients ask if antidepressants can help grief. The answer is while medication can help relieve some of the symptoms, it doesn’t treat the cause which is the loss. While numbing the pain sounds like a good thing, the pain must be worked through and antidepressants will only delay the mourning process.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, health problems, and even suicide. Treatment can help you get better.