What is Grief?
In a nutshell, grief is a normal life process. At some point in our lives, each of us faces the loss of someone or something dear to us. The grief that follows such a loss can seem unbearable, but grief is actually a healing process. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel after a loss of some kind. The death of a loved one, loss of a limb, divorce, even intense disappointment can cause grief. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has named five stages of grief individuals go through following a serious loss. Sometimes individuals get stuck in one of the first four stages. Their lives can be painful until they move to the fifth stage – acceptance. The five stages of grief are NOT linear – typically individuals go in and out of stages at any given point in time. This is a normal process that eventually leads to the final stage, acceptance.
Five Stages Of Grief
- Denial and Isolation
At first, individuals tend to deny the loss has taken place and may withdraw from our usual social contacts, work or commitments. This stage may last a few moments, days or months. An individual in this stage usually “pretends” that everything is “fine” and typically refuses to discuss the event or situation entirely.
The grieving individual becomes angry at the individual who inflicted the hurt (even if they have died), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
Now the grieving individual may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
The individual feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath. An individual may lose interest in pleasurable activities, feel sad for days at a time and truly mourn for their loss.
This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The individual simply accepts the reality of the loss. Individuals are able to move forward in their lives. They are able to think about their loss without experiencing any of the symptoms of the first four stages.
Grief and Stress
During grief, it is common to have many conflicting feelings. Sorrow, anger, loneliness, sadness, shame, anxiety, and guilt often accompany serious losses. Having so many strong feelings can be very stressful. Yet denying the feelings, and failing to work through the five stages of grief is harder on the body and mind than actually experiencing them. When others suggest “looking on the bright side,” or other ways of cutting off difficult feelings, the grieving individual may feel pressured to hide or deny these emotions. Doing so only prolongs the grief process.
Recovering From Grief
Grieving and its stresses pass more quickly, with good self-care habits. It helps to have a close circle of family or friends. It also helps to eat a balanced diet, drink enough non-alcoholic fluids, get exercise and rest. Talking to others or receiving counseling can also be extremely beneficial. It is important to surround yourself with family and friends that allow you to express ALL of your feelings, at any given time.
Most individuals are unprepared for grief, since so often, tragedy strikes suddenly, without warning. If good self-care habits are practiced regularly, it helps the individual to deal with the pain and shock of loss until acceptance is reached.