AND THE NATURAL HEALTHY BUT CHALLENGING GRIEF IN OUR LIFE
trained in 1982 in bereavement counselling and over the past
thirty five years I have worked with people to enable them to
respond to the challenge of working through the all important
stages of adapting to loss in their life.
we begin lets explore all the forms of loss that create a grief
response in our life resulting from our loss.
death of someone we love
and separation from someone we loved
Loss of a job or career
grieving response affects people in different ways and there
is no right or wrong way to feel because each of us is different
with different personalities. Just as in life we do it our way
but the journey through the stages of responding to powerful
loss in our life have to be travelled.
there are four stages to responding to a powerful loss in our
accepting that the loss is real
experiencing the pain of grief
adjusting to life as a result of this powerful loss
and finally, putting less emotional energy into grieving and
moving on in our life
shock and numbness (denial is commonly how we describe this
initial reaction) and people I have worked with often tell me
how they feel as though they are in a dazed state most of the
overwhelming sadness, with lots of tears
a powerful tiredness and sense of exhaustion
and, when someone has died, anger towards the person who has
died or for some God.
grieve after any sort of loss but the most powerful reaction
is after the death of someone we love so I have provided links
to the others forms of loss in the next paragraph and for the
reminder of this page I will be focusing on loss when a person
we love dies.
and separation from someone we loved
Loss of a job or career
whole series of emotions surface beginning with feeling initially
stunned and how we cannot believe this has actually happened
even if the persons death was expected.
Five Stages of Grief (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)
is the first of the five stages of grief and it helps us to
survive the immediate loss.
first few hours after a death we are stunned and this is present
even if we have been expecting the death.
sense of emotional numbness
can help us to move through the practical arrangements that
have to be made. But this feeling of unreality can be a problem
if it goes on for too long. For many people the funeral or memorial
service helps the reality of what has happened to sink in.
this numbness disappears and may be replaced with a dreadful
sense of agitation of pining and yearning
for the dead person to be in our life again. Feelings of
wanting to somehow find them, even if this is impossible which
makes it difficult for us to relax or concentrate and it may
be difficult to sleep and when we do the dreams can be a nightmare
this first stage the world feels meaningless and at the same
time overwhelming. Life makes no sense because we are in a powerful
state of shock and denial. We wonder if we can go on, if we
want to go on, if we can make it through this and so we just
try to simply get through each day.
is a natural way to help us pace our feelings of grief so that
we know that there is only so much which we can handle at a
be directed towards the doctors and nurses for not saving the
patient, the friends and relatives for not doing enough or for
that matter the person who died 'if you had really loved me
you would have fought harder to stay with me, and then even
anger towards ourselves. Anger is a powerful and necessary stage
of rebuilding and so be willing to experience and express the
anger so that you don't become stuck at this all important stage
of grieving. The truth is that this powerful anger appears to
have no limits and can extend to your friends, the doctors who
were involved in treatment, members of your family as well as
the person who has died.
may also ask 'Where is God in all of this and why am I going
through this terrible pain' or 'what did I do wrong to deserve
this?' Driving this anger is pain, a feeling of being deserted
and abandoned. Whilst as a society we fear anger and its expression
this anger is really an anchor, giving temporary structure to
a feeling of nothingness. In the early stages of grief we feel
as though we are lost in a sea with no real connection to anything
anymore. When you get angry towards people or a situation it
strangely gives structure where the anger becomes a bridge over
the open sea. On a positive note your anger is another indication
of the intensity of your love.
a death it seems like you will do anything on earth to prevent
their death. After their death bargaining may take the form
of 'what if I devote my life to helping others, then I can wake
up and realise this has all been a bad dream?' Here we become
lost in a world of 'If only...' or 'What if...' statements.
Essentially we want life to return to what it was. We want to
go back in time - where we find the tumour early enough.. to
recognise the illness earlier.....to stop the accident from
happening ... if only...if only.
is often bargainings companion in the sense all of the reflection
and 'if only's' which often result in our feeling guilt when
we reflect on what we could have done differently. We may even
bargain with the pain and try to do anything so as not to feel
such pain of loss. We attempt to remain in the past. Sometimes
an event will trigger such feelings for a few minutes or an
hour and othertimes a sense of loneliness and isolation can
create such thoughts for days at a time.
years ago when I began my career the literature on grief was
entering mainstream and this all important stage was commonly
labelled 'depression' however I did not agree with this and
so in my lectures, workshops and seminars as well as one to
one sessions I make it clear that the grieving response is a
natural and healthy response and so words like depression can
pathologise and so I will not use or allow this stage to be
labelled as depression for it is a powerful and intense sadness.
of the coping strategies and of the various stages of emotions
to loss bring us to the present reality. Empty feelings and
the grief enters our life at its deepest level. Deeper than
we ever imagined to the degree where our coping strategies to
deflect no longer work.
withdraw from life left wondering at times if it is worth going
on in life alone.
feeling of guilt. People
find themselves going over in their minds all the things that
they should have said or done. Even to the extent of what they
should have done to prevent the death. 'if I had realised earlier
and made you see the doctor months before' or 'if we had led
a different lifestyle and I had stopped you from smoking or
drinking'. If only, if only and the list goes on.
stage of agitation is usually
strongest around two weeks after the death and then a feeling
of intense sadness (I do not use the word depression for this
is a natural process and the word depression can be associated
with non-natural states). Withdrawal and silence and this sudden
change in emotion can be very difficult for friends and family
to understand. Intense feelings of sadness can be sparked by
small things such as opening a drawer and seeing something we
were not prepared for. People, places bring back memories of
the dead person.
this stage friends and family often find it difficult to understand
what is happening. For them their lives have moved on whereas
for the bereaved person everything on a day to day basis has
drawn to a halt!
it can be very difficult for friends and family to be with the
person who is grieving because of their pain, for example when
the person bursts into tears for no apparent reason. At this
stage it may be tempting to keep away from other people who
do not fully understand or share the feelings of grief. In fact,
in my experience, unless someone has been through grief they
often find it very, very difficult to understand the process
bereavement we spend a lot of time just sitting doing nothing.
Thinking about the person we have lost, going over and over
again both the good times and the bad times together. This is
essential part of coming to terms with the death and should
not be rushed through.
time passes the powerful emotions begin to subside. The intense
sadness begins to lessen however the sense of lost a part of
ourselves never goes away entirely. For bereaved partners there
is a sense of having lost a part of oneself which never entirely
younger bereaved there are constant reminders of this
new singleness in seeing couples together and watching 'happy
families'. After some time it possible to feel whole again even
though there is an essential part of us which is missing.
various stages of mourning often overlap so don't, for one moment,
think that you are not progressing through your grief. Most
people recover within two years with the first year being the
year of reflection - 'this time last year we were doing. . .
' and the second year - 'last year when they died. . . '
is not a stage of feeling everything is OK no, this stage is
about accepting the reality in our life and that they are not
going to return and we are preparing for the next stage of rebuilding.
final phase is letting go
of the person who has died and this stage is very challenging
as you being the stage of rebuilding.
are no standard ways of grieving given certain key factors in
our personality and events that have happened earlier in our
life and this is what I explore when I am working with people
on a one to one basis.
is a natural process that both those who are dying as well as
those who are close to the person who is dying go through. Many
of the elements of the actual grieving response after the person
has died compose this process however the intensity of the reality
of a person's death takes these natural responses to another
Dying Go Through The Grieving Response
process for one who knows that they are nearing the end of life
is termed 'anticipatory grieving'. I might also add that those
who are close to the person who is dying also share in this
process of anticipatory grieving.
diagnosis the person experiences a total sense of emotional
numbness ' the doctor has got it wrong, the rest results are
someone else's - I need to go and see another doctor who is
once the reality of the prognosis sinks in then a feeling of
anger - why me.
intense sadness as the person reflects back over their life.
For those who have entered old age this may not be the case
at all so it depends at what stage in a person life a terminal
prognosis is recieved.
there is a final stage of acceptance. Here another challenging
phase begins. That of rebuilding a future life.
though young children may not understand the meaning of death
they feel the loss of close relatives in much the same way as
adults. However, unlike adults research has shown how children
may go through the stages of mourning quite rapidly. In their
early school years, children may feel responsible for the death
of a close relative and so may need to be reassured that it
is not their fault. Young people may not speak of their grief
for fear of adding extra burdens to the grown ups around them
especially when they see the pain that these adults are going
Following A Suicide
well as the usual feelings of bereavement, you may have a number
of conflicting emotions such as:
Anger with the person who has taken their life
- Feeling rejected by what they have done
- Confused as to why the did it
- GUILTY - most people who take their own life as an act of
desperation. How could you have not noticed how they were feeling?
Guilty for not having been able to stop their death. You may
go over and over this in your mind and explore the times you
spent with them. Of course, even if you had managed to prevent
their suicide attempt, there could well have been further attempts
which you could not have stopped.
Worries about whether they suffered
Conflicting feelings over the fact that they no longer have
to endure their life of distress
Relieved that you no longer have to be there to support them
or deal with their suicidal thoughts and urges
Ashamed by what they did - particularly if your culture or religion
sees suicide as sinful or disgraceful
Reluctant to talk to other people about it because of the stigma
of suicide in your culture
You may feel that other people are more interested in them or
the drama of the situation rather than your feelings for the
person who has died
Worried around thoughts of suicide that you may have had yourself
Isolated - it can help to talk to people who lost a loved one
that does not progress and interferes with the persons ability
to function in their day to day life.
grief is more common in people who:
Are unsure how they feel about the person who has died.
Have negative views of themself and low self-esteem
Feel guilty about the death where they feel they could have
prevented a serious accident, suicide leading to the death and
also when someone suddenly dies and you didn't have the chance
to say important things to them
Where violence has caused the death. People who experience a
traumatic loss are at the risk of developing post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD)
Experiencing a death that others do not recognise as significant
such as when a miscarriage occurs.
people react to unresolved grief
They may act as though nothing has changed in life (denial)
and refuse to talk about the death
Become preoccupied with the memory of the person who has died
and are not be able to talk or think about anything else
Distraction where they focus on work and more work - the workaholic
Drink more alcohol or become dependent on drugs
Become overly concerned about their health in general or about
an existing health condition and see a doctor more than usual
Become progressively depressed or isolate themselves from other