Processes of Grief
Grief affects each person differently, and everyone goes through grief at their own pace, in their own way, and in their own time. The order and the length of grief can vary according to the type of loss experienced (e.g., natural death vs. suicide or murder, loss of a job through a lay off vs. retirement), as well as your unique relationship with the deceased. The following is a list of processes an individual may experience during their grief journey:
Recognize the loss
This process involves accepting the reality of death as well as understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding the death.
- React to the Separation
This process involves reacting to the losses not immediately apparent such as role changes, hopes and dreams that will not be fulfilled, and parts of self that died with the loss.
- Reexperience the deceased and the relationship
Part of grieving is finding a new way of relating to the deceased, the outside world, and even oneself. One example includes achieving closure on any unfinished business you may have with the deceased.
- Relinquish old interpretations and understanding of the world
With the loss of a loved one, one is faced with the challenge of reorganizing one's expectations for the deceased being in one's life. The meaning and purpose of one's life may change in many important aspects.
- Readjust and move into a new world without forgetting the old
This process involves forming a new sense of identity that incorporates the loss. Rather than cut all ties with their loved one, an individual may come to maintain emotional and symbolic links to the one they lost while maintaining growth in the present.
New relationships may develop in one’s life that can provide renewed sources of emotional gratification.
Common Reactions to Grief
Many people who are faced with a significant loss are surprised at the range of emotions thoughts, behaviors, and sensations they experience. Often grieving people wonder if what they are experiencing is typical. The following is a list of the most frequently reported symptoms that grieving persons report. These are all quite normative, although they can be disruptive at times. It is often reassuring to persons grieving a loss to know that their experiences are very normal.
- from sense of frustration
- from feeling helpless
- anger can easily be turned inward
- Guilt and self-reproach
- from dependency
- from heightened sense of own mortality
- Relief; if, for example, the deceased had been painfully ill for some time
- PHYSICAL SENSATIONS
- Hollowness in the stomach
- Tightness in the chest
- Tightness in the throat
- Oversensitivity to noise
- A sense of depersonalization - numbness
- Feeling short of breath
- Weakness in muscles
- Lack of energy
- Dry mouth
- COMMON THOUGHT PATTERNS
- Sense of presence (of the deceased)
- COMMON BEHAVIORS
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite disturbances
- Absent-minded behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Dreams of the deceased
Factors that Inhibit Grieving
There are various factors that can inhibit (or hinder) grieving. All of the following examples may be inhibiting factors in the grieving process, but they do not preclude that the person will not grieve at some time. Hopefully, these inhibitions or blocks will be overcome and grieving will proceed unimpeded. Some of these include the following:
STOICISM - For example, people often tell others (or tell themselves) to "be strong," "don't cry," "be brave," or "put on the strong front for everyone else." Frequently, people who do this miss the opportunity to deal with their own grief.
- DENIAL - Sometimes a person denies that the individual is really gone and may avoid participating in or attending funeral rituals or visiting the grave. An individual may go on for weeks, months, and sometimes years speaking of the deceased as though s/he has just died, thus shutting out the pain and process of grieving.
- ABUSE OF SUBSTANCES - Shock and depression weigh heavily on bereaved persons, which can and does at times lead to abuse of alcohol or other drugs.
- OTHER LOSSES - Unfinished or unresolved grief from an earlier loss (not necessarily a loss through death) can awaken so much pain that the individual is reluctant to add to the painful experience by grieving the more current loss.
- FEAR OF LOSING CONTROL - Individuals who fear losing control (e.g., "If I start crying, I'll never stop") can actually prolong their grieving process. They often close themselves off from their support systems by shutting out relatives and friends who would create an atmosphere that may induce tears or sadness.
- LOSS OF EXTENSION OF SELF - An individual may have been very dependent upon the deceased (or the relationship was very important), which may lead him/her to avoid grieving in order to avoid the reality of the loss (e.g., "We were so much a part of each other. I am not complete without her/him, so s/he can't be dead."). This dependence or closeness is usually found in a relationships of many, many years.
- HYPERACTIVITY - Some individuals attempt to put grief aside and not deal with it at all by keeping very busy (e.g., "Oh, I keep busy," "There is so much to do, I just don't have time to grieve," "I keep going 'til I'm so tired I just drop"). Although it is important to stay active, this "running ragged" can lead to physical and/or emotional illness because the grief has been avoided.
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF!
How to Survive those "Special Days"
In our lives, there are many holidays or "special days" (e.g., wedding anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, graduations, the anniversary of someone's death) which can be difficult to celebrate for someone who is grieving. It is during these times when you may be acutely aware of the void in your life. Many people wish is to avoid these "special days." However, if it is a holiday shared by many in your society (e.g., Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years), you may be unable to escape the seasonal greetings or wishes. You may also see the perfect gift for your dead partner, child, relative, or friend, and you may be reminded that s/he will not be with you this year. Listed below are some ideas and suggestions that others have found helpful in coping with "special days."
Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for the holiday season and what each family member can handle comfortably.
- There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. Some may wish to follow traditions, while others may choose to make changes and do things differently.
- Once you have made the decision on the role you and your family will play during the holiday, let friends and relatives know.
- Don't take on too many responsibilities. Make it through each day a little at a time.
- Do something for someone else (e.g., volunteer at a homeless shelter, visit a convalescent hospital, spend time with someone who is house-bound).
- Ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family.
- Provide help for a needy family.
- Don't set your expectations too high. If you want things to be the same as they were before the death of someone you cared about, you will be disappointed.
- Realize that it isn't going to be easy. Just do the best you can.
- If you feel like crying, go ahead. It will not ruin the day for others, and it may provide them with the freedom to do the same.
- Set limitations. Do the things that are very special and important to you.
- "Special days" are emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining. You need your strength. Try to get enough rest.
- Donate money or a gift in your loved one's name.
- Projects such as cleaning the house can get out of proportion. If the chores are enjoyable, go ahead; but not to the point that it is tiring.