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Grief is a normal response to any loss.  Each person’s grief journey is unique, yet the process of grief is similar regardless of what was lost:  a loved one, a relationship, your health or your loved one’s health, your home, your identity/role related to family or job, your income and/or your hopes and dreams.  The intensity of your grief is directly related to the strength of your attachment to what was lost.

  • Support

  • Express Your Feelings

  • Embrace Grief

  • Understanding the Phases of Grief

  • Searching for Meaning

Sharing and talking about your loss is an important part of healing. Talk with someone who listens without giving advice, lets you talk about whatever you need to discuss, accepts you where you are, and doesn’t try and make you feel differently. Talking with someone helps you begin to acknowledge the reality of your loss.Accept that all feelings are okay and all are both a normal and necessary part of healing. Identify your feelings, name them, talk about them, and write about them. The intensity of your feelings can make you feel out of control and overwhelm your normal coping strategies. The feelings of grief are like the waves of the ocean.  Sometimes the feelings are big and it’s high tide, and sometimes they are small and it’s low tide. Sometimes the feelings are stormy, and sometimes they’re calm.

There is no right way to deal with grief and people deal with grief differently.  What is most important is NOT to bury your grief or avoid it.  The key to dealing with grief is to embrace it and to allow all the varying feelings of grief to flow.  The specific feelings of grief vary with each phase of the grief process.  In the beginning, you avoid accepting your loss with feelings of shock, denial, and anger.  Towards the 9 month mark, you start to confront the reality of your loss and your more intense feelings of sadness, anger, heartbreak, fear, guilt and depression.  Somewhere in the second year you start to accept your loss and start to make accommodationsin your life for your loss.  Your feelings begin to feel less intense and you experience more moments of peace and happiness. Wendy Feiereisen describes how grief changes as we embrace it in her poem, “Grief”

  • You don’t get over it/ you just get through it

  • you don’t get by it/ because you can’t get around it

  • it doesn’t “get better”/ it just gets different

  • every day…/grief puts on a new face.

Remember, everyone experiences the phases of grief differently and there is no timetable.  As people experience the process of grief, they will move in and out of each phase more than once. Protesting the loss and feeling angry happen when you step out of your shock and denial and start to accept your new reality. The typical response is “Why me?” “It’s not fair.”  Our need to have control prompts us to search out answers, such as, why it happened, how we could have stopped it or prevented it.  Unfortunately, there are often no answers, and of course it is not fair. After asking the same questions over and over and after expressing anger and frustration, many people begin to move into the next phase of intense sadness.

During this phase there is the sensation that it was a mistake; everything will go back to the way it was, my loved one is going to walk through the door any minute or my health will return.  This sensation is usually gone by the 9th month and many people experience this as a particularly intense period of grieving.  Somewhere around this time, you begin to move in and out of the avoidance phase and into the confrontation phase as you confront the reality that you will not find what you lost.

Angry-sadness, depression-sadness, despair, heartbreak, fear, guilt, and disorganization are characteristic reactions once the grieving person has expressed their initial anger and frustration at the loss.  This is when mourning starts and embracing the pain is very important.  At this time people feel very tired and very sad.  The extreme tiredness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and the feelings of helplessness are all characteristics of both grief and depression.  It is easy to begin to describe yourself as depressed when you are feeling the intense feelings of sadness and grief.  It is more helpful to describe this non-productive, reflective time as sadness and grief.  Let a professional decide if your grief and sadness have turned into depression.

  • Confrontation Phase This phase starts with the recognition that your life will not return to the way it was.  You have moved beyond feeling that your life is surreal and into recognizing that the way your life is now is your new normal.   Your grief during this time is very intense with your feelings being very acute and at times overwhelming, resulting in a state of disorganization.

  • Yearning and searching for what you lost is another way of protesting the loss. It is typical during this time to review many of the “If only…”  thoughts.   Again there are no answers to these thoughts. “If  only…I should have…I could have…” are phrases that reflect our intense desire to have control over what happened.  When you hear yourself using these phrases, picture a barrier at the top of a slope and stop yourself from finishing the thought.  Remember, at the bottom of this slippery slope is a dead end and if you continue your “if only” and “should have”  thoughts, you will slide down the slope and then need to climb back up.

  • Avoidance Phase Shock, numbness, denial, and disbelief are the initial reactions to grief.  We are overwhelmed with feelings of unreality, and the life we are living in now feels surreal.  This is particularly true with an unexpected loss. It takes time for the shock to wear off and denial allows individuals to accept parts of their new reality a little at a time.

  • Understanding the Phases of Grief

  • As you feel and express your feelings during the different phases of your grief, remember:  it is not that you are having a bad day, but a grieving day.  Just as you cannot stop the waves in the ocean, you cannot stop the feelings of grief.  You can only ride the wave of your grief and find a comfortable place to express it.  Find time to be with your pain now; postponed grief returns later.  Connect yourself with what you have lost, your old sense of self or the person you lost.  When you are ready, use memory triggers, such as, photos, clothing, or a special place in your home to be at peace and feel nurtured.

  • Embrace Grief

  • Express Your Feelings

  • Get Support

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