What is Grief?
Grief is the natural human suffering and pain after a loss. Losing a loved one, home, job, pet, or health to a disease are all life events that cause grief. Indeed, any sudden change — including a retirement or the experience of sending a child to college — can be a source of grief. Whenever there is change, there is loss.
What is the Grieving Process?
Grieving a loss takes time. The grief process is a term used by counselors and health care professionals to describe the journey that an individual undertakes following a loss. During the grieving process, the objective is to find a place of peace and acceptance.
A range of emotions are part of the grieving process:
• and even depression may occur.
Emotions may change suddenly and violently as one grapples with the loss at hand.
In On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are fluid, meaning that one can bounce back and forward between stages on the journey to accepting a loss.
Signs of Avoiding Grief
Many people try to avoid the pain of the grieving process either consciously or unconsciously. Some signs that suggest that one is avoiding the grieving process include:
• Irritable or easily angered
• Excessive hunger or lack of hunger
• Avoids anything that triggers feelings of loss
• Drug/alcohol abuse
Though grief is painful, not grieving can also have painful consequences. Relationships, work, and even one's health can be affected by behaviors that are implemented in an attempt to avoid grief.
Embracing the grieving process is necessary to heal from a loss in life. The first step to grieving is to acknowledge one's loss and the feelings associated with it.
Many people are afraid of grieving and the tears, anger, and pain that the process may unleash. Finding a trusted support group, friend, or therapist will lead to invaluable support for an individual or family struggling with the grieving process.
Signs of Grief
Another step to grieving a loss is to be patient with the self. Common expressions of grief may include:
• Retreating socially
• Nightmares or insomnia
• Sentimental behavior towards objects connected with the loss
• Repeated memories connected with the grief
Grieve, Heal on Your Own Terms
It's important for a grieving person to recognize that grieving cannot be rushed, nor can one grieve on a schedule. Granting permission to experience the symptoms of grief is essential to the healing process. Setting aside time for personal reflection, relaxation, and caring for the body, mind, and spirit will increase one's power to heal from grief.
Thoughts such as "I should be over this by now" or "What's wrong with me?" add unneeded stress and pressure. Trust that the process takes time, and indeed, is never really over as long as one is alive and able to love and care for others.
Grieving is a journey of coming to terms with a loss in life. Accepting that grief is normal and natural are important steps in the grieving process for all those who have loved and lost in life.
Sources: Ross, Elizabeth Kubler. On Death and Dying. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1997.
A former hospital and hospice chaplain, Melissa now teaches meditation, world religions, history, and violin. She offers stress management workshops, facilitates spiritual retreats, and offers spiritual direction via phone, email, or in person within an hour of Parsons, Kansas U.S.A.