Grief & Loss: Coping with the death of a loved one
You’ve probably lost a loved one recently or perhaps you’re grieving over a loss that happened years ago and still hurt when you think about it. Whatever your situation, it is likely that the pain is real and sometimes unbearable. Memories of the person, the last few moments with the person and the residue of anything unsaid or undone is perhaps keeping you away from your normal routine. Everything about your life seems changed overnight, including your sleeping and eating patterns. You perhaps experience a deep sense of yearning to see the person again or talk about anything left unsaid. You’re also likely to be feeling guilty about things you can’t explain, and the guilt doesn’t seem to go away. You miss the person greatly and you occasionally pinch yourself to believe he/she is no more on earth. All this may lead you to feel a lack of energy, sadness and possibly a heightened pain in your stomach.
Reading this is probably making you more aware of the pain you’re experiencing right now. And you might be wondering if you will ever be able to get over it.
At this point, you might benefit from knowing that it is normal to experience all these feelings! Psychology has confirmed that every human being goes through these emotions while in grief. People in grief tend to feel all of these emotions: denial, shock, disbelief, guilt, anger and depression. And it is normal to feel this way after losing a loved one!
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a doctor in Switzerland who spent a lot of time with dying people, both comforting and studying them. She wrote a book, called ‘On Death and Dying’ which included a cycle of emotional states that is often referred to the Grief Cycle. This grief cycle is experienced by human beings across all cultures when they hear the news of loss. However, the expression of these emotional states may vary according to cultural influences towards mourning. The culture in India would encourage you to cry and talk about the person as your whole extended family might provide physical and emotional support by staying with you for the first few days. This is known to be helpful in the grief process.
The grief cycle is shown in the image below, indicating the roller coaster ride of activity and passivity as you try your best to cope with the loss. You could go through any of these stages at different times, fluctuating from one to the other, without necessarily following an order.
Stages of Grief
Understanding the Grief Cycle
Stability: It is likely that you were in a relatively stable state before hearing the news of the death, atleast compared with the ups and downs that would follow.
Shock: Once you received the news, you may have felt shocked and paralytic, not showing too much outward reaction but feeling frozen inside. Soon, the initial shock wears off and in some cases it could take several days.
Denial: After shock, it is likely for you to fluctuate to the next stage, which is denial. This means consciously or unconsciously pretending that the event has not happened or the intensity of loss is not as high as it really is. It could also mean suppressing difficult emotions like anger and guilt, which are very common in this stage.
Anger: Once you’ve passed the stage of denial, you may experience a sudden shift to the stage of anger. This anger is often an explosion of bottled up feelings. You could be feeling angry towards the person who left you or angry towards others who you might blame for the event. Sometimes there is anger towards God for allowing the event to happen. You might also feel angry towards yourself for not being able to stop the event. This emotion tends to be closely linked to feelings of guilt, where you perhaps feel guilty for not doing enough when the person was alive.
Bargaining: After the anger has subsided, it could lead you to a subtle process of bargaining; where you seek ways to create hope to somehow undo the event. You could be bargaining with God, with yourself, with the departed person or others around you.
Depression: Bargaining usually ends in a realization that there is no hope of getting the person back, causing a state of depression At this stage, you may feel sad, empty, hopeless, restless, irritable and a possible lack of energy. You may not feel like attending social events or being with people, preferring isolation.
Testing: Sometime later, when you’re perhaps fed up of feeling sad, you might begin to look for ways to overcome the pain. This may include activities which act as experiments to test you as a way of dealing with the pain.
Acceptance: The good news is the possibility of reaching the final stage of acceptance after the roller coaster ride of fluctuating stages is dealt with! In this stage, you may find new meaning to the event while accepting what has happened without feeling guilty, angry or depressed. The earlier stability is likely to be back and you move on with renewed meaning of the loss.
It is important for you to know that this grief cycle takes anywhere between days to years to complete, depending upon every person’s unique individuality and context. And sometimes this cycle can repeat itself several times. For example, a person may go back from acceptance to denial once again.
You have probably realized by now that grieving is not an easy process. And sometimes we can make it tougher on us by criticizing ourselves for going through these emotions. Therefore the first step to help yourself is to realize that it is normal to feel these emotions and that people across the globe who are in grief are probably feeling the same way as you are.
Experiencing these emotions by crying, talking or venting will help you cope with the grief, thereby facilitating you to reach the stage of acceptance in a more healthy way. While talking to a friend or a family member certainly helps, you could also consider talking it over with someone you don’t know, who will enable a neutral, objective and warm relationship in a safe and confidential place so that you can feel free to be yourself without feeling judged.
At TalkItOver, we have trained professionals who can be present with you at whatever stage of grief you are experiencing right now, helping you cope with the loss through emotional support. We know how tough, painful and vulnerable you may be feeling and therefore ensuring your emotional safety and wellbeing is our topmost priority.
We want you to know that however intense the pain is, talking it over will help.