We grieve over many different scenarios. The first that comes to mind of the loss of life.
But grief can also occur when you lose your job, during divorce, given a bad health diagnosis just to name a few.
When going through grief, a cycle of emotions occurs, these are:
- Shock & Denial
- Pain / Guilt
There is no set time of how long it takes to go through the cycle of grief, or how long each person spends in each step. Many people may jump back and forth between steps of the cycle and multiple stages can also hit at the same time.
Why call them stages? It’s a way to help guide what to expect with grief.
Let’s go through the cycle in more detail.
In order to avoid the pain of a loss, our bodies go into a state of shock, numbness. This is a way for your mind to protect its self and can last for a few weeks.
Pain / Guilt:
Once the numbness of shock starts to wear off, it’s replaced with pain.
This pain can be excruciating, sickening and unbearable. It is important to experience the pain at its full force. Resist the urge to hide away from it, to cover the pain with drugs or alcohol as this won’t help the process, and may do more damage.
During this time, you may also start to feel guilty. Start having “what if” thoughts.
- What if you have done more to help?
- Could we have spent more time together?
- Now they won’t be able to experience… with me.
Life can be extremely scary during this phase, and it’s ok to ask for help. Talk to friends and family about how your feeling, seek professional support through a counsellor. `
Feelings of guilt may soon turned into feelings of anger. A sudden urge may overcome you and you might struggle to control your emotions. Thoughts of blaming others and acting out towards this person may cause permanent damage to your relationships. It’s ok to be angry, but instead of pushing people away from you, use them to help support you.
If you feelings of anger become overwhelming, take some time out, but also allow yourself to release emotion that you are pushing down inside you. Go to a place where you feel comfortable to scream and cry. It’s ok to do this.
Bargaining can occur before your love one has passed. And even if you are not religious, you may start to pray in the hope it will allow you’re loved one more time. That if this person is able to live you promise you will be better to the world.
Bargaining can also occur after the loss, trying to bargain with yourself, “Please let this be a bad dream, let me wake up and they are still alive, I promise if they come back I will…
A feeling of emptiness enters our lives, and grief takes on a deeper level. The depressive stage feels like it will last forever, and you may start to think this feeling is the new normal.
Don’t misinterpret the depression related to grief as a mental illness, it is a normal and appropriate response to a great loss. The loss of a loved one is a very intense situation, and feelings of depressive thoughts is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is a key step on the journey.
On a side note, if at any time thoughts of suicide do enter your thoughts, seek help:
- Talk to friends,
- make an appointment with a GP,
- and remember Lifeline is 24/7 telephone support line – 13 11 14, where you can stay anonymous and get immediate help anytime day or night.
The stage of acceptance is accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this is the new reality. You don’t have to like this reality, but you will learn to live with it.
At first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died, in time we see we cannot maintain the past, as it has been changed and your life must be readjusted.
During this time roles need to be reorganized and tasks reassigned. By doing this, feelings of guilt may come back again, but finding a balance between knowing that you can never replace what has been lost, and doing what you need to do to continue on with a productive healthy life is important.
This is a good time to stop pushing away your emotions and start to listen to your needs, and soon you will move, change and grow. In time you will begin to live again, but this cannot be done until grief has been given it’s time.
Even after long periods of acceptance, there are lots of things that may re-trigger a memory of what you have lost.
- A special date
- a photo
- a smell
- or even passing a stranger in the street that reminds you of that person you lost.
Any of these could send you back into a smaller subset of the grieving process and you may wonder if the grieving process ever ends. There is one thing that isn’t normally covered by the typical grief process and that is appreciation.
We grieve because we feel that we have lost something or someone we had a strong emotional attachment to. If we reversed the situation and it was us that had been lost, after that initial feeling of sadness, when they pass that coffee shop we used to visit together, wouldn’t you want them to grin and remember the good times you had together before getting on with their lives, rather than remembering what they have lost.
The best thing about the acceptance phase is you can finally focus the wonderful memories and the good times you had without the pain of the loss drowning out all the other positive emotions.
So live, love, grieve, remember and smile.