The suffering that comes with losing a loved one is something that does not have a simple remedy. It takes time to heal this sort of pain, and a willingness to feel these painful emotions.
However, if you allow yourself to experience the emotions caused by this grief and take the time to understand that the grieving process is both normal and healthy, you might find that grieving has a healing effect in the long run.
What is grief?
Although sometimes used interchangeably, grief is not depression. Whereas depression is a mental health diagnosis, grief describes the intense sadness and hopelessness felt as the result of a loss. Long term, unmanaged grief may lead to symptoms of depression, but this depends heavily on each case.
“Grief,” according to clinical psychologist Regina Josell, PsyD, “is a natural response to any kind of loss. People experience it in different ways, but typically, it includes a variety of intense emotions, like sadness, anger, irritability and guilt.”
Grief often occurs in stages, formally known as the stages of grief. As the reality of death begins to sink in, you often begin to experience these stages:
- Denial – where you still haven’t comprehended the loss; you might refuse to believe your loved one has passed, or you keep yourself busy enough to avoid thinking about the reality.
- Anger – where you feel angry or irritable and might even blame yourself, your loved one, God or the medical staff for what happened. You might take this anger out on anyone as you subconsciously work through it;
- Bargaining – where you begin to think how you could’ve prevented the death from occurring; it includes trains of thought like, “If only this, then maybe all this would not have happened.”
- Depression – where you feel confused, hopeless or directionless as a result of the loss; you begin to wonder how to continue on when nothing is the same.
- Acceptance – where you begin to come to terms with what has happened and don’t feel so immobilized by your grief; while you still feel the loss, you aren’t controlled by the sadness.
Not everyone experiences the stages of grief in a progressive manner. Some might skip the stage of bargaining entirely or move straight from anger to depression and some might accept the reality sooner, while another moves back and forth between denial and acceptance for some time.
Healing is not the same for everyone, including healing from losing a loved one.
Coping skills for grief
The more active you are in recovering from grief, the more equipped you will be to handle the emotions that come. While it’s understandable that not every day will be perfect, it can help to know what coping mechanisms you can tap into when you need more support dealing with grief.
- Spirituality – The belief in an afterlife can be incredibly comforting when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Knowing your loved one is no longer suffering and that some day you will meet them again in an afterlife can also bring peace. Prayer allows you to ask for their intercession, so that they may continue to watch over you and be present even when they aren’t physically there.
- Friends – While you might be tempted to isolate, reaching out to your friends is a crucial activity to coping with grief. If you’re not ready, you don’t need to talk about what happened; simply being in the presence of friends can be both a comfort and a healthy distraction. Being with friends is likely to remind you that joy still exists even amidst the sadness.
- Feel your emotions – The more you push off your emotions, the harder they will be to deal with. If you feel sadness, anger or distress, it is okay. In fact, it’s so much better to feel those emotions and let them run their course than pretending they don’t exist. The more you allow yourself to work through your emotions, the more you will begin to heal, even if it’s difficult. This might be a new experience, but take it one step at a time, and let those steps take time if needed.
- Be gentle – Grief might be an entirely new experience for you and one you have no idea how to navigate. That’s completely normal. All you can do is continue to work through the grief, take it as it comes and not expect yourself to be perfect at handling every twist and turn. Being gentle with yourself during this time is crucial to properly coping with the grief.
- Seek grief therapy – Sometimes it’s too much to handle on our own and we have to reach out to someone who can help. Again, this is totally normal, especially if this is the first time you’ve dealt with grief and death. A grief therapist can help you understand and work through any emotions, in addition to giving you coping skills to manage grief in a healthy way.
Counseling for grief
If you or a family member are considering grief therapy, reach out to Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling today. We offer services to help you find peace and acceptance as you journey through the stages of grief.
To get in touch, visit our website or call our offices at 1-800-809-2925.