Grief is as unique as each individual on this planet—factor in individual and cultural differences, context, and relationships. While there is evidence of grief phases, each person experiences grief in a very personal way. These phases reflect the variety of reactions that are natural and necessary for healing. There is no one way to deal with loss. The key is learning to accept the emotions that go with your journey through grief. As painful as it will be, healing will follow soon after.
Since grief is very much unique and personalized, understand that all these emotions and thoughts are valid. Expect to get on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
Denial and Shock
Even in the case of anticipated deaths from terminal illnesses, the reality of losing someone you love is still difficult to accept. This sudden change in your life has occurred, and you feel paralyzed and helpless. You may even feel distant, indifferent, and apathetic. According to psychologists, this is a natural coping mechanism for feeling too overwhelmed. It is a natural reaction to loss, and it doesn’t imply that you don’t care. The denial phase usually does not last long, but the best thing to do for a friend experiencing this is to allow them to express and voice out all the emotions they are experiencing. Simply lending an ear and not offering any advice is the best way to help.
Anger is a common and natural reaction to loss. Anger usually occurs as a result of frustration from feeling cheated by your circumstances. Individuals may harbor feelings of powerlessness at the injustice of their loss. Commonly, these individuals project their anger to more accessible targets like people in their household, the hospital, or the government.
Feelings of anger are natural, just like any other emotion. Learn to accept that anger is part of being human. Overt and violent expressions of anger are natural responses to a traumatic event. This is not a personal attack. Offer support to a friend expressing anger after a loss by being empathetic and listening to their reasoning. Try to avoid responding in anger back as a defense.
Express these intense feelings of anger. Unexpressed anger may lead to internalized bitterness, indifference, aggression, and depression. Allow yourself to accept that you are angry and express all the thoughts and emotions that are going through your head. Find a safe way to express your anger, such as pounding a pillow or yelling loudly.
Feelings of guilt may wash over you after your loss. You feel guilty about words you should have said and things you should have done. Now that a loved one is gone, you feel regret that you have neglected or failed them. You may even feel guilty about being angry at your loved one for leaving you. You express your humanity with this emotion, and it is healthy to express guilt.
When a friend is expressing feelings of guilt, encourage them to express their feelings fully. Try not to invalidate their reasons because denying them what they are feeling may make them feel even more guilty.
After recognizing the full extent of your loss, it is natural to feel sad, lonely, and empty. The weight may lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Some physical symptoms would include difficulty concentrating, a suffocating feeling, tightness in the throat, sleep and appetite disturbances, as well as crying spells.
Relief and acceptance
Some of our loved ones may have been battling illness and disease in a hospital or hospice for a long time. The progressive deterioration of our loved ones compounded with the demands of caregiving may lead to feelings of relief. It is indeed difficult to admit and acknowledge this relief openly. You should not question your love for the person, nor should you feel guilty about accepting their death. Feeling a sense of relief may just indicate the depth of our love, the fact that we can accept the pain of losing someone we love in return for ending their suffering.
It may help to try to understand your feelings of relief and explore the reasons behind them. Reflecting in your journal, writing a letter to our deceased loved one, or maybe even talking to their grave can help. If you would like to explore these feelings with others, share them with a close friend, or find a support group from your loved one’s hospice or hospital.
Starting the Healing Process
A factor that will take a toll on the healing process is avoiding or minimizing your emotions. Working too much or distracting yourself from your feelings will only prolong your pain. Instead of compartmentalizing your feelings, learn to be kind to yourself and understand that your emotions are valid. Learn to embrace this experience and allow the emotions to wash over you. Accept that you are grieving and that it will take time.
According to a study, the use of alcohol and drugs to self-medicate was deemed unhelpful by those experiencing grief. The use of these substances leads to losing control, which ultimately leads to embarrassing and risky consequences. These substances may dull the pain for the moment but will cause health and behavioral difficulties. If you require medication, consult with your doctor or physician.
Coping with Grief
The first and most difficult step to dealing with grief is ultimately learning to accept your loss. Intense and sudden emotions of anger, guilt, fear, and depression may overwhelm you. Allow yourself to experience these emotions, and learn to acknowledge both positive and negative feelings. Express these feelings openly.
Try to reflect and understand how you cope best with challenges and find strength from these experiences. Seek help from your family and friends, from your spirituality, or even a medical professional. A hospice or a hospital may suggest support groups that will help you cope with the death of an elderly loved one.
As time goes by, you will eventually find the good in your experience. Encouraging yourself to develop positive meanings from your loss can lead to an improvement in your overall well-being and relationship with others. You will find the strength to continue your search for a new perspective in life.