Grieving and Loss
Grief is a natural response to loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is gone or taken away. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but any loss can cause grief, including the loss of:
- Health (yours or that of someone you're close to)
- A friend or love relationship
- Financial stability
- Safety after a trauma
- A pet
How to grieve
While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and permit you to move on. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can't be forced or hurried; and there is no "normal" timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it's important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
You may hear people talk about the stages of grief. Understanding the five stages may help you to heal, but contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won't experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don't worry about what you "should" be feeling or which stage you're supposed to be in.
The five stages of grief:
- Denial:"This can't be happening to me."
- Anger: "Why is this happening? Who is to blame?"
- Bargaining: "Make this not happen, and in return I will ____."
- Depression: "I'm too sad to do anything."
- Acceptance: "I'm at peace with what happened."
How to Heal
- Get support from others: The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren't comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it's important to express them when you're grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone.
- Take care of yourself: The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.
Complicated Grief, Depression, and When to Seek Counseling
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn't remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn't always easy, since they share many symptoms.
Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:
- Feel like life isn't worth living
- Wish you had died with your loved one
- Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
- Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
- Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
- Are unable to perform your normal daily activities
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- Death and Grief: Article for young people on how to cope with grief and loss. Includes tips for dealing with the pain and taking care of yourself during the grieving process. (Nemours Foundation)
- Life After Loss: Guide to coping with grief and loss from the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center.
- Griefnet.org: Online support community for people dealing with grief, death, and major loss, with over fifty monitored support groups for children, youth, and adults.
- Grief and Loss : Explanation of the main phases of grieving process,with tips for helping someone who is grieving, from the University of Illinois Counseling Center.
- Major Depression and Complicated Grief : The warning signs and symptoms that suggest grief has progressed to major depression or complicated grief, from the American Cancer Society.
- Complicated Grief: Learn the difference between the normal grief reaction and complicated grief,including information about symptoms, risk factors, and treatment. From the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.