Grief is expressed in many, many ways and can affect every part of your life; your emotions, thoughts, behaviour, beliefs, health, and your relationships with others. It can leave you feeling sad, angry, anxious, shocked, regretful, relieved, overwhelmed, isolated, irritable or numb... sometimes all at once.
Everyone experiences grief differently – there is no set pattern. Some people may grieve for weeks and months, while for others, it could be years.
Author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief in her 1969 book 'On Death and Dying'. Her book was the result of her work with terminally ill patients in which she noticed a distinct lack of teaching and instruction provided to medical professionals concerning death and dying. She examined death and those who were faced with it at the University of Chicago medical school. A series of seminars, patient interviews and previous research later became the foundation of her ground breaking book!
The stages identified in 'On Death and Dying' are;
Denial is a defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements. Guilt often accompanies the bargaining stage and you start to believe that things might have been different 'If only...'.
This could be your quiet preparation to separate and to bid your loved one farewell.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it will only prolong the natural process of healing.
During our grieving period, it is important to acknowledge the following;
- You will spend different amounts of time working through each step.
- You will experience each stage with different levels of intensity.
- The five stages may not occur in any specific order.
- You will often move between stages before you accept the loss of your loved one.
Now that we have identified some stages of grief, let's look ways that may help you through the grieving process;
- Grieve your way. No one can tell you how to feel and there is definitely no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Understand that grief takes time, accept that you will sometimes find yourself surprised by how you are feeling.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help (friends, family members, counsellors, support groups).
- Take care of your physical health. Grieving can be exhausting, so it's important to eat a healthy diet, exercise and sleep.
- Manage stress – lighten your load by asking friends, family members or work colleagues to help you with some of your commitments. Relaxation and gentle exercise can be beneficial.
- Do things you enjoy, even if you don’t really feel like doing them.
- Honour your loss – perhaps you could write a journal, treasure precious possessions, plant a tree, whatever feels meaningful to you.
- Be prepared for difficult events that trigger your sadness – Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries etc are going to be hard. Surround yourself with people who love you and remember fondly the time you had with your loved one.
- Take one step at a time - there will be setbacks, but you will be ok (and trust me, it may not feel like it at the time, but you will be OK).
Remember, be gentle with yourself, allow yourself to feel ALL of the emotions (and you will). Process everything and take your time to work what you're thinking and feeling. There are no rules and there is no time limit on grief; don't ever let anyone tell you there is.
Time doesn't take all the hurt away, you just get better with coping and that's OK.
I'd like to finish with a poem that was given to me after the death of a family member. As a 16 year old struggling to come to terms with so much grief and anger, it didn't really resonate with me at the time...but I put the poem in a frame next to the photo of my sister as a reminder. The older I got, the more I started to take great comfort and solace in the words and their meaning.
“In one sense there is no death. The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond their departure. You will always feel that life touching yours, that voice speaking to you, that spirit looking out of other eyes, talking to you in the familiar things they touched, worked with, loved as familiar friends. They live on in your life and in the lives of all others that knew them”.
- Angelo Patri-