Losing something that is important to us is never easy. Luckily we are designed to be able to cope with and actually survive loss. Most people are just not aware of what’s “normal” when grieving. Our hope is that this article will help you understand grief and loss better, as well as provide you with ways to cope.
Usually when we think of grief and loss we immediately think of someone dying. That is definitely one of the most difficult losses, however, there are many types of loss. Losing our job, our home, or our financial security are types of losses. Some people experience loss when they relocate. Even if it’s for a positive reason, relocating can be difficult because we lose the support, security, and familiarity we once had. Elderly people often experience the loss of their independence. Parents sometimes experience grief in the natural yet life-altering process of becoming an empty nester. Sometimes we experience grief at the realization of a loss of a dream. The list goes on. It’s important to notice the stages of grief that we may go thru with every loss. However, we want to focus particularly on the loss of someone we love and the stages of grief we experience.
There are five natural stages to the grief process.
- The first stage is Denial. This stage can last a couple minutes or several years, depending on the person and how they cope with loss. This is the feeling we have when we just can’t believe something is happening. Our mind is actually trying to wrap itself around what is happening. Some people get stuck in this stage and are never able to accept the loss.
- The second stage is Anger. This is when the denial leaves and reality sinks in. We feel very angry about the loss, often blaming someone or something.
- The third stage is Bargaining. This is when we try to “fix” what happened. Sometimes the bargaining happens with God: “if you bring them back I will NEVER take them for granted again”. Sometimes it happens with ourselves: If I just would have… If I just could have…
- The fourth stage and usually the longest stage is Sadness. This is where the loss is truly felt and we feel the pain of our loss. Sometimes this leads to Depression and can be severe if not coped with appropriately. This stage is really hard and people do everything they can to avoid it. But to truly grieve we must go thru this stage.
- The fifth stage is Acceptance. The pain is still felt in this stage but we are able to move on appropriately and no longer try to change the situation. We acknowledge our loss and do things to honor our loved one or work on things to change if we see something thru the loss that we could have taken responsibility for.
It is important to note that we often fluctuate between stages, jumping back and forth. Sometimes we move into the sadness stage and then back to anger only to find ourselves back in denial. Sometimes we get to the acceptance stage but when the anniversary comes along or a trigger happens, we may temporarily go into the sadness stage. The thing to remember is it is all normal and if we work thru it, the pain will be manageable at some point.
So how do you cope with loss? Different things work for different people but we wanted to give you a few suggestions of what we see work for our clients.
- Don’t fight it- let yourself go thru each stage at your own pace. Many people try to “get over it” or move on with life too quickly in order to ignore the pain. Yes, we do need to get things back to “normal” or as normal as we can. But we need to allow ourselves time to get thru it.
- Talk about your feelings with a friend, pastor, or counselor. Try to talk to others who have experienced a loss or have expertise in grief and loss. Sometimes it just helps to talk about your loved one.
- Do something to honor your loved one. If they loved nature, take a walk outside to feel a connection with them. Visit the cemetery or look at pictures. Remember them on their birthdays.
- Let your friends and family help. Grieving is a time to let others help you. Don’t try to do it alone! This is not the time to try to be independent. You need others help and support.
- Honor your feelings. Don’t be afraid of them. Stuffing feelings creates physical problems as well as anxiety and depression. Your feelings are natural and need to be felt. Let yourself feel any emotion.
- Get lots of rest. Emotions are heightened with the loss of sleep. Your emotions may be even more difficult to manage if you are not getting enough rest.
- Remember to eat. Even if you don’t have an appetite you still need to take care of your body for your emotions to heal.
- Be patient with yourself and take things at a slower pace if needed. You may not be able to do as much or do it as quickly as usual. That’s ok. Give yourself a break!
- Don’t beat yourself up. There is nothing you can do to bring your loved one back. Do not let yourself go over and over what you would have, could have, and should have done.
- Give yourself time. The average length of time it takes for someone to grieve is 2 years. That is average. Everyone is different but usually when we are working with someone who is grieving we begin to see the cloud lifting around the 2-year anniversary. This is not to say it doesn’t still hurt. It just means we are able to cope more effectively despite the pain.
We hope these suggestions are helpful for you. If you or someone you know is struggling thru the grieving process, do not hesitate to call us. Our therapists not only have expertise from their training but also have personal experience that is valuable when helping those who are grieving. Give us a call at 317-569-0046 or send us a comment card at www.imaginehopecounseling.com. A therapist will contact you within the business day. We serve the Indianapolis area including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield. We look forwarding to helping you Imagine Hope for you!