The Stages Of Dealing With Grief

There are common stages an individual may experience during grief. Grief is the pain of not having the person who is gone. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve.

In one way or another, we are all affected by death. Losses are inevitable and are ever present in all lives. Death is universal. Grief is universal. We all must cope with bereavement at some stage in our lives. Even though death can be separated into two categories, long-term illness and sudden death, all death is sudden. The finality of death brings to those left behind a tremendous amount of emotional pain. Grief is not something abnormal; rather, it is a normal and inevitable step in our journey through life. Two simple definitions of grief are 1) the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior. 2) a normal, natural and painful emotional reaction to loss. We can grieve not only for the passing of a human life, but also for the death of a relationship (divorce) or we can suffer the same emotional reactions over the loss of a beloved pet. Grieving is difficult because it involved many intense feelings - love, sadness, fear, anger, relief, compassion, hate, or happiness to name a few. Not everyone experiences all of these feelings but many in the grieving process experience several of them at the same time. The feelings are intense, disorganizing and can be long lasting. Grieving often feels has been described as drowning in a sea of painful emotions.

There are certain stages of grief. 1) Shock - Immediately following the death of a loved one it is difficult to accept the loss. A feeling of unreality occurs. During those first days and through any religious rituals or memorials there is a feeling of being-out-of-touch. 2) Emotional Release - the awareness of just how dreadful the loss is accompanied by intense pangs of grief. In this stage a grieving individuals sleeps badly and weeps uncontrollably 3) Panic - For some time a grieving person can feel in the grip of mental instability. They can find themselves wandering around aimlessly, forgetting things, and not being able to finish what they started. Physical symptoms also can appear -- tightness in the throat, heaviness in the chest, an empty feeling in the stomach, tiredness and fatigue, headaches, migraine headaches, gastric and bowel upsets. 4) Guilt - At this stage an individual can begin to feel guilty about failures to do enough for the deceased, guilt over what happened or what didn't happen. 5) Hostility - Some individuals feel anger at what "caused" the loss of the loved one. 6) Inability to Resume Business-as-Usual Activities - the ability to concentrate on day-to-day activities may be severely limited. It is important to know and recognize that this is a normal phenomenon. A grieving person's entire being - emotional, physical and spiritual, is focused on the loss that just occurred. Grief is a 100% experience. No one does it at 50%. 7) Reconciliation of Grief - balance in life returns little by little, much like healing from a severe physical wound. There are no set timeframes for healing. Each individual is different. 8) Hope - the sharp, ever present pain of grief will lessen and hope for a continued, yet different life emerges. Plans are made for the future and the individual is able to move forward in life with good feelings knowing they will always remember and have memories of the loved one.

Grieving is difficult work. The following are some suggestion to help in navigating the journey through grief.

-Take time. Don't let others rush you into "getting over" your feelings.

-Don't make major decisions. The time of grief is a time of instability.

-Avoid the temptation to use alcohol or drugs to numb the painful feelings.

-Cry. Tears are the healthiest expression of grief. Don't try to hold back crying for the sake of others.

-Know that there will be good days and bad days. Pangs of intense grief can surface during holidays, significant events such as birthdays or anniversaries.

-Remember the loved one often and as much as you need to. Look at photographs, read old letters and retell your memories to friends and other members of the family.

-Seek people who will understand your need to talk about what happened. Seek out people who will really listen to your remembrances.

-Allow yourself time to heal. Pay attention to your health. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Get outside in the sunshine for exercise or a mild walk.

-Ask for what you need from others. Accept what help they offer. Now is not the time to try to do everything by yourself.

-Seek out grief counseling if you feel you cannot cope alone. Grief counseling is available through community resources, churches and licensed therapists. Join a grief support group. Local community papers will usually have listings. Use the Internet and join an electronic bulletin board dedicated to supporting individuals who have lost loved ones.

-Remember your grief is individual to you. Not everyone's grief is identical to yours. You will share some similarities with others, but grieving is a very personal and very individual process.

Death like any great wound leaves a scar. It may heal and the pain may ease but the mark is always there. But the memories of the loved one are always there also. The most important thing to remember is -- there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. People grieve in their own time and in their own way. The second most important thing to remember is - everything you feel during bereavement is normal. The third most important thing to remember is - if you feel you cannot cope with your loss alone, you don't have to. Seek help. Grief is the pain of not having the person who is gone. Through bereavement we learn to live without that person and in the words of St. John Chrysostorn, a bishop living in the fourth century: He whom we love and lose is no longer where he was before. He is now wherever we are.

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