Grief and grieving. The shock, even though we know someone will die as they age or illness comes, there is still shock when it happens. This is followed very quickly by a funeral which brings so many more elements into this shock time. Being with family or not being able to be there, travel, expense, lack of sleep and the normal things in your life all consume your first days after death. Then your daily routine returns.
Now, you ask: What are the right and wrong ways to grieve? How long does it take? What should I do? If I cry am I grieving and then is it over? What if I don’t cry what do people expect me to do?
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has written about the stages of grief in give stages. These stages are not linear and the time that is experienced in each stage varies. It is hoped that understanding these stages will help you go through them. How you experience them is personal and not a pat answer to how long your pain will remain. Some say three months later they felt better and others six months to a year before life returned to being normal. Even with that being said, there are relapses like anniversaries, and other moments in your life. The missing loved one’s birthday or yours. The memories of times spent together etc. are all triggers for re-experiencing the pain of this lost relationship.
I will briefly paraphrase her stages as grief begs for an end of pain and depression and sorrow and an understanding of what is happening.
Denial and shock comes first and looks differently to everyone. Everything seems meaningless and over whelming, nothing makes sense and feels numb. You may feel empty and numb, as if you are in shock and notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating. This shock actually helps us go on and helps us process only as much as we can handle at this point. When the questions of now what start to surface and processing what has happened then the more intense feeling come. So often things are said to others during this time that are unexpected and even hurtful as we struggle through the funeral and immediate things that need to be done after death. Forgiveness is so important for yourself and others.
Anger is one of the stages and is necessary. It seems endless and there are so many other emotions associated within the anger. The more you feel your emotions instead of ignoring them the more it will begin to dissipate. Anger extends to others, to God, even to the one you lost to death and is the emotion we are most used to handling as this world as society fears anger. Kübler-Ross states that anger is a bridge to connect to others and is powerful and moving us from feeling nothing. It is the intensity of our love and what we have lost that brings this strong emotion that helps us explore all the other things we are feeling.
Bargaining, another stage before loss one promises to do anything to spare the loss by death, followed by what if’s and if only feelings. Guilt is often partnered with Bargaining feelings. After Death we try to bargain with the pain, negotiate ways to not feel pain and loss. Stages come in minutes and hours not just weeks and months – flipping in and out as we try not to feel our pain.
Depression comes after bargaining. As we move to the present, our attention to life and the feelings of emptiness are intense and deep. This stage often feels like it will last forever and is different with each person. It is not a sign of mental illness and is an appropriate response to death. What can this depression can look like? Restlessness, feeling unable to sit still, aches and pains (headaches, backache, neck pain, rib and chest pain), anxiety attacks, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, comfort eating, sleep changes and fear of sleeping, difficulty concentrating.
We withdraw from life in a fog of sadness.
Support during this time is so important, it is not something you snap out of or just get over and having supportive friends who can listen are so important. Depression is a normal response and even as you heal it may return at what I call anniversary times.
Acceptance is not the notion of being all right or ok with what has happened but about reality. This is the stage where we learn to live with it. We never like the fact that they are gone, it is not ok, but we accept it. Life has forever changed and we readjust. I explain this livings with loss like this. The loss or death is like a wound on our arm, time lets it heal, produces a scab of new skin covering the wound so it does not hurt and bleed as much, but life can bump that wound and break the scab and it needs to heal over again. So, we re-experience parts of the stages of grief and loss again and move back to acceptance. What we have lost can never be replaced, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we go on, we change, we grow. This stage we start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We begin to live again, after we have given grief its time.
Grief and grieving: is there a right or wrong way?
It is in the process that we heal, it is personal and painful but most important to be experienced not ignored.
The process is so much easier with support, love and understanding/acceptance.
Patience and forgiveness key for the insensitivity of others and your own mistakes that come out of the intense emotions.
We need time and love and growth.
Author: Fay Sherwood
Fay is originally from rural Canada, born into a family of artists. By the age of 15, she had become a well-known artist in her community. Fay went on to teach oil painting and ceramic classes also designed clothing for children and for plays and theatre companies. Fay moved to California and completed her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy worked with at risk families, children, individuals and couples. In her spare time she has been writing and journaling about human nature and relationships and takes great joy in encouraging others to be creative. Fay is currently creatively writing, and working with several other art mediums in Abu Dhabi UAE.