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Have you experienced the death of someone you care about? Are you struggling to cope with your grief reactions? Here are some explanations of the grieving process and some resources to help you through this difficult time. It’s important to keep in mind that grieving is an individual process and people may go back and forth between the different phases of grief. Remember that this is a normal part of the grieving process.
What is grief?
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. We often relate “grief” to the death of someone we care about, but many other significant losses can trigger grief. For example, the end of a relationship, moving, an opportunity or life goal is closed to us, death of a pet, or someone we care about having a potentially fatal illness. Without going through a grieving process, it is difficult to “free-up” the energy that is bound to the lost person, object, or experience so that energy remains tied to the past. Grieving allows us to reinvest that energy into our daily lives.
When someone you care about dies, it is often difficult to accept the fact that it has happened and to understand the accompanying painful feelings. For those who have never lost a loved one before, it may be difficult to know what to expect. The sadness experienced after the loss of a loved one may trigger grief from a previous loss. Significant days such as graduation, weddings, holidays, and anniversaries of the death may make you more aware that someone is missing in a poignant way.
What are the typical phases of the grief process?
- Accept the reality of the loss
This can often be the hardest task. People can try to protect themselves by denying that the loss occurred, and it is normal to hope that you can reverse the situation. However, for most people, this is a short-lived illusion and once they accept the loss, they are able to move forward in the process.
- Experience the pain or grief
It is important to work through the emotional and behavioral pain associated with the loss because otherwise it might manifest itself through symptoms or forms of maladaptive behaviors (eg – sleeping and eating disruption, forgetfulness and confusion, withdrawing from social supports, drug and alcohol use, exacerbate already existing symptoms such as headaches, addiction, or diabetes).
- Adjust to the environment in which there was a loss
People often work against themselves by promoting their own helplessness while grieving, either by withdrawing from the world when they need more support or not developing skills to deal with the loss.
- Reinvest energy into other relationships
The final task is to emotionally withdraw from the loss so the emotional energy can be utilized in another aspect of your life. Sometimes this is especially hard if people are fearful of investing in a relationship which they also fear will end in a loss. However, remembering the lost loved one or lost relationship does not mean you have to devote all your energy to it. Working through this stage allows people to feel fulfilled again and regain enjoyment in life.
Here are some practical things you can do to facilitate the grieving process:
- Give yourself space and time to grieve, don’t try to rush things
- Take care of your physical self; get enough food, sleep, exercise
- Speak to other people about your experience and be genuine
- Spend time with others doing enjoyable things
- Be prepared for sudden mood swings and changes in thinking
- Take time to enjoy those special people in your life
- Don’t make sudden important life decisions
- Monitor drug, alcohol, and caffeine use
- Avoid extra responsibilities during the time of healing
- Keep normal routines going
Here are some resources on grief and loss:
LeShan, Eda. Learning to say good-bye: When a parent dies. AvonBooks, 1988.
Myers, Edward. When parents die: A guide for adults. Penguin Books, 1986.
Staudacher, C. Beyond Grief: A guide to recovering from the death of a loved one. 1987.
Staudacher, C. Men & Grief, 1992.