When we hear the word grief, we automatically think someone has died. In fact, if you search the internet for articles on grief, most talk about dealing with the death of a loved one.
Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss can be a breakup, losing a job, separating from your partner, divorce, becoming an empty nester or a separation from a friend or your family. Many of us experienced – and are still experiencing loss – as a result of COVID.
Grief is complicated. Even the five stages of grief aren’t as simple of a process as they sound because your emotions may be all over the place and surface in no particular order and for no pre-determined length of time.
Let’s examine the five stages of grief to gain a better understanding of the process:
We are not ready to accept the reality of our loss. Denial is our way of pretending the loss does not exist. It is a mechanism we use to survive each day and pace our feelings of grief to minimize the overwhelming pain we are feeling. We are allowing in only as much as we can handle. As we begin to question what has happened, we can begin to get through the denial stage.
A necessary stage of the healing process, anger can seem endless, but the more we feel this emotion, the more we will begin to heal. Underneath anger is pain. We are trying to adjust to our new reality, we have so much to process over our loss, and anger becomes our emotional outlet. It can be a source of strength, but it also can be an anchor holding us back. It can surface at any time and with anyone – even someone who has been a strong support for us. We want to blame someone for our loss.
During this stage, we begin the “if I only …” or “what if” statements to better understand what happened and how we can fix it in the future. Some are so desperate for a return of our normal life that we will do anything to make that happen. We try to negotiate our way out of the pain and guilt we are feeling. Then, we start making promises to ourselves about being a better person or appreciating what we have more. We often ask ourselves, “what could I have done differently so this wouldn’t happen?”
In this stage of grief, we begin to feel our loss much more deeply to the point of depression. We slowly are starting to look at our new reality and it brings unavoidable pain. We may isolate ourselves and withdraw from the world.
Acceptance does not mean we are all right; it means we are beginning to accept our new reality and learning how to live in this new place. It does not mean the pain is gone; it does mean we aren’t struggling with how to change what happened. We still may have some bad days, but we are ready to accept new opportunities for growth. We are ready to move forward.
Not everyone goes through all five stages of grief, and everyone can go through them in a different order and even repeat some of the stages. Grief is different from person to person. It depends on many factors including your personality, your coping style, your support system and your belief system. Your pain, your loss, is unique to you. Take the time you need to heal.
I’d also like to dispel a few myths about grief:
There is a right way to grieve. False.
The grief journey is different for each person. For some, crying or anger are natural responses. For others, it could be painting or cooking. Everyone finds their own personal way to release the emotions they are feeling. None of these are wrong.
The pain of your loss will go away faster if you ignore it. False.
You need to deal with it in order to get over it.
You must be strong to get over your grief. False.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author and educator, says it well: “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.”
Grief lasts about one year. False.
There is no set time frame for grief to end. The pace is different for every individual. Sometimes family or friends may try to rush us through the grieving process. Do not listen to anyone but yourself.
Time heals all wounds. False.
Time does not heal our grief. Our emotions may decrease in intensity, but they will stay with us. Grief is not about getting over our loss; it is about finding a healthy way to move forward. Ten years from now, when you think about the job you lost, for example, you may feel angry or depressed, but the grief will have subsided. And moving forward does not mean you are forgetting your loss.
Here is some advice that may help you through the grieving process:
- Acknowledge the pain you are feeling.
- Seek face-to-face support from family or friends.
- Take care of yourself.
- Understand that your grief is unique to you.
- Find a grief and loss support group so you will have someone to talk to.
You may want to consider seeking professional help from a licensed therapist if you are exhibiting many of these signs frequently: depression, crying, lack of focus on day-to-day activities, feeling that you can’t get it together, feeling tremendous guilt, feeling you can’t go on with your life, and not sleeping or eating.
How can you help someone who is grieving?
It’s always hard knowing what to say or do. You want to be a source of comfort and help but you aren’t sure how.
- Try not to be a fixer. The person grieving does not need to be fixed.
- Validate their pain. Comments of hope or trying to make them laugh to ease their pain can be interpreted as insensitivity.
- Don’t push them to talk if they are not ready.
- Make yourself accessible. Let them know you are there to help, but also give them their space to grieve.