It is natural for us to feel grief when experiencing a significant loss in our lives. We most often think of this in terms of the death of someone we care about. This is our way of working through our feelings about this significant loss. We may each have our personal experience of this loss though there are many similarities to how we deal with this.
When faced with coping with the loss of a loved one you may find that you end up mentally flipping through your memories of your time with them. Some of those moments may be defining ones like celebrations, trips, births etc. Though sometimes the quite moments that only the two of you experienced are what resonates the most. At times you may re-experience these memories & allow yourself to fully embrace your emotions surrounding them.
As time progresses you will need to balance this more with things necessary to continue living your life. You may need to return to school or work and resume your other responsibilities. Even as you take more steps towards moving on you may still find that your mind drifts back to your memory bank full of memories about that person.
Different phases of grieving
Kubler-Ross was a researcher who studied grief and loss for many years. She proposed that there were different phases to the grieving process. Over time scientist trying to quantify and validate the different aspects of each one has questioned these phases. That being said they do serve as good landmarks when discussing the range of emotions one may experience. She proposed that we would progress through each of them though not necessarily in a linear fashion. So we may ebb and flow between them as we gradually become more accepting of our loss.
They were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial may be the initial reaction as you are faced with the shock or realization that this is really happening. For some it may show up by them not wanting to believe that it could happen now or at all. For others this may present as a means to block out some of the overpowering feelings so that they can focus on present day responsibilities.
Anger may come up either directed at the person who died or even in terms of blaming yourself for some aspect of their death. Maybe you blame the doctor you feel should have done more to save them. Maybe it is anger at yourself for not seeing they needed help sooner. Maybe it is at the one who died for not taking better care of themselves.
Bargaining may take the form of pleas for one more month, week or day. Some may pledge to be kinder better people in exchange for a bit more time. This may also be the overwhelmed parent who wishes there were some way to trade places with their terminally ill child.
Depression would be the heavy sadness that comes with the realization that this situation is out of your control. The sense of sadness when thinking about the amount of changes you may face or opportunities you won’t share with that person in the future. If the person was significant to you this may seem like a really great burden to carry.
Acceptance is the destination you have been moving towards. This involves the integration of the sadness and anger from the loss with the hope and happiness that lay in the future. Being able to reconcile yourself to the idea that there is a cycle of life and that your loved one has indeed moved on and so should you may seem very difficult at first but often becomes easier as you continue to process your grief.
It sometimes helps to remind yourself of all the positive experiences your loved one had so that you can feel they did have a full life however long it was. These memories that you have are wonderful souvenirs of your time together that you will have forever. This is one of the ways that the person is able to remain with you for the rest of your life whether they are present with you in person in the future or not.
Other causes of grief
I’ve been referring to loved ones but the grieving process is not exclusively for them. For anyone who has lost a family pet you can certainly relate. Your memories may be of cuddles on the sofa, romps in the park or running on the beach together with your furry friend but the emotional process is the same. Love and loss are the same regardless of whom you have loved or lost in your life.
In a similar way we may experience grief and loss when faced with a major life change particularly if it is not of our choosing. Think about the person who may have lost a job they loved, or isn’t able to do a hobby they cherished for years due to health problems. These folks may go through a similar process when faced with accepting the changes to their lifestyle. I’ve seen this particularly when I’ve worked with clients who had to leave a profession they loved due to injury or illness.