Grieving is a normal human response to losing someone or something important. Experiencing a loss can involve strong emotions, troublesome physical symptoms, and may require a period of adjustment.
The way we experience grief can be influenced by a number of factors including the nature of the loss and the meaning we make of it, one’s culture, upbringing, life experience, and spiritual beliefs. Everyone grieves differently and for varying periods of time, but for most everyone, the symptoms gradually become less intense as time passes. There is no one right way to grieve, but experts recognize a number of stages or phases people go through when they experience a significant loss (see also Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘ classic book On Death and Dying):
- Denial, numbness, and shock – a state that protects us from intense emotions
- Bargaining – thinking about what could or should have been, longing for a second chance
- Depression – involves sleep and appetite disturbance, decreased energy and concentration, crying, deep feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation
- Anger – defends against feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, abandonment, or that life is unfair
- Acceptance – meaning making, finding resolution, healing, integrating the loss into your life
Prolonged denial of the loss or avoidance or minimization of feelings, self-medicating, excessive guilt, impaired functioning, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, and/or suicide thoughts may indicate complicated or unhealthy grieving. It may be wise to consult a professional if you or someone you love is experiencing these symptoms.
While it is important to remember that there is no “right way” to grieve, healthier ways of coping with a loss include:
- Expression of feelings (memorializing, talking to friends or family, journaling, crying, creating or enjoying art or music)
- Good self care (paying attention to diet, exercise, hygiene, stress management, etc.)
- Giving yourself permission to grieve your own way in your own time
- Being prepared for difficult times ahead such as holidays, anniversaries and other reminders
If you or someone you know is looking for online support for coping with a loss, try Tom Golden’s Crisis, Grief, & Healing page or GriefNet.org, an “Internet community of persons dealing with grief, death, and major loss”. For more resources pertaining to grief, loss, and other mental health concerns, please visit www.kansascitymentalhealth.com.