The process of recovering from loss is always difficult. The grief process applies to all kinds of losses—loss of loved ones through death and divorce, losing a job, moving to a new place, losing a friend. These experiences are difficult for everyone.
STAGES OF GRIEF
There are some predictable stages that most people pass through after losing something or someone important. In her work on death and dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five stages of grieving.
- Shock and denial. The first reaction to loss is often the inability to feel anything— numbness or “not feeling yourself.” You may also feel weak, overwhelmed, anxious, or withdrawn.
- Anger. Blaming others for the loss.
- Bargaining. “If you’ll just let him live, I promise to go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”
- Depression. Feeling deep sadness, crying excessively, and having disturbed sleep and eating patterns, as well as thoughts of suicide.
- Acceptance. Beginning to look for the lessons of the experience.
The grief process involves experiencing all five stages but not always in this order. People often cycle back and forth through the first four stages before coming to the stage of acceptance.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM LOSS
If you or someone you love is experiencing the grieving process, the following points may help:
- You are responsible for your own grieving process. No one can tell you how to grieve, and no one will do your grief work for you. It is hard work, and you must manage the process for yourself.
- The grieving process has a purpose. It is to help you learn to accept the reality of the loss and to learn from the experience.
- Remind yourself that your grief will end. You will not feel like this forever. You will heal.
- Take care of your health. Grief is extremely stressful, and it requires energy to manage the stress.
- Be careful with food and alcohol. While it may be tempting to numb the pain with food and alcohol, doing so can lead to the additional problems of alcohol dependence and obesity. Also, numbing the pain means that you prolong the denial, making the grieving process last longer.
- Talk about the person who is no longer in your life. People sometimes avoid talking about the loss as a denial mechanism. However, this prolongs denial and the grieving process.
- Take time to be alone. In the days and weeks following the loss of a loved one, there is often a flurry of activity. There may be many visitors and phone calls. This can be quite exhausting. People will understand if you don’t answer the phone for an afternoon or go to your room and close the door for a while.
- Maintain a normal routine if you can. You have enough changes in your life right now. Try to get up, go to bed, and take your meals at the same times that you always do.
- Ask for help. You will need it. If you don’t want to be alone or if you want someone to take you somewhere, it is okay to ask. People don’t expect you to be self-sufficient right now.
- Let people help you. People want to help because it gives them a way to express their feelings. Staying connected with people is especially important now, and accepting help is a way of staying connected.
- Keep a journal of your feelings and experiences. During the grieving process, write about your feelings to help you express them rather than keep your feelings inside. Doing so also gives you something to remember and review in the future.
- Avoid making extreme life changes. After a major loss, don’t make any important decisions until your life feels more balanced. It can be tempting to make some important changes right after a major loss as an effort to feel more in control. If you can, put off such changes and decisions until later.
- Don’t hurry your grief process. People sometimes want to put their feelings and memories behind them because they are painful. But grieving takes time, and there are no shortcuts.
- Remind yourself that although grief hurts, it will not harm you. Grief is painful, but you will survive and even grow from the experience.
- Expect to regress from time to time in your recovery process. This is normal. It may happen unexpectedly but probably won’t last long.
- Acknowledge the anniversary of your loss. Take the day off or do something special. Have supportive people ready to be with you. It could be a difficult day, and it’s better not to be alone.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WHO IS GRIEVING
- Don’t try to get them to feel or be anything but what they are.
- Don’t reward them for acting cheerful or “like their old selves.” This teaches them to suppress their feelings around you.
- Don’t avoid them; they need your support.
- Let them tell about the loss again and again if they need to.
- Recognize that unexpected, perhaps inappropriate, behavior is part of the grieving process. It means that the bereaved person is moving forward.