Grief – Stages and the Process Involved
Commonly, we think of grief as an emotional state associated with the death of someone and the loss that follows. When a loved one passes, a variety of emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are exhibited by a grieving person. There are several different stages that landmark the journey through the grieving process. The occurrence of each stage is different for every person. An important fact to remember here is that grief is a manageable process for which every person must find his or her own pace.
Stages of Grief:
SHOCK / DENIAL
Think of denial as a form of shock that initially occurs when some trauma happens. Denial is a defense mechanism in our mind that allows us to gradually allow traumatic information in without overloading our emotionalcircuits. We may feel a sense of numbness, disbelief, restlessness, and/or confusion. We may find it difficult to think as our ability to concentrate becomes weakened and our minds become hazy. Simple everyday tasks become difficult. Allowing you the time to prepare mentally is healthy, so long as stagnation does not occur. Movement occurs when we accept the loss and the feelings of grief. In severe cases, a friend or loved one may need to act as the catalyst to this awareness by being there to gentle confront the denial.
The loss carries with it a strong sense of unfairness. The pain of the loss can be overwhelming as well and may just want to bargain out of the injury. We may find ourselves contracting, consciously or unconsciously, with a higher authority. This higher authority may be the God of your religion or it may be with someone like a doctor. We think that magically the person may come back to us if we only offer up the right fee. I will be a better person, God, if you let Peter come back home to me. Please God, Take me instead of my son! This phase of grief is often brief, and it is the final effort to hold on to what is important to them (or at least ease the suffering generated by the loss).
There is a stage where anger takes hold as the unfairness smothers the grieving person. We think of anger as bad or wrong or something that we must overcome. Anger is just an emotion just as viable as happiness, sadness, joy, and excitement. Anger is neither bad nor good; it is neutral. It is not the emotion that is bad. It is what we do with it once we have it that seems to cause the most destruction. Because people over the centuries have stated that anger is sinful or bad or wrong, we forget to teach people how to deal appropriately with anger. Anger turned inward becomes depression; anger turned outward can become rage.Â Voicing ones anger and expressing said anger without violence is a healthy approach to deal with the emotion. Exercise, meditation, yoga, and martial arts are common methods for dealing with anger.
The stage of depression is commonly what most people call grief whereas the other stages are sometimes overlooked. Depression is only a part of the grieving process no more and no less valid than the other stages. When our defenses of anger and denial finally breakdown, depression inevitably follows. The loss becomes an acute emotional pain. We become hopeless and often feel helpless. The duration of this time of sadness varies, but the frequency waxes and wanes as well. We may become depressed then feels like things are getting better. Then, suddenly, we are even more depressed.Â Even after we have moved to a stage of acceptance, we will still have moments where the sadness creeps in. This is normal and necessary. To move out of this stage, we must regain our sense of identity and we must begin to deal with the loss in our own way.
Symptoms of Depression:
- Activities of Daily Living such as self-care (bathing, dressing, eating properly, etc.) and life-responsibilities (attending to work duties, cleaning home, etc.) are often decreased
- Isolating from others
- Change in eating and sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Suicidal thoughts may enter our minds
ACCEPTANCE AND THE HOPE THAT FOLLOWS
The clouds begin to clear. The anger and depression seems to decrease. We recognize the shift from hopeless to hopeful, subtly and gradually. The life patterns begin to stabilize. You begin to reconnect with others, and you begin to value the things in life that are important to you. We move to this stage through awareness. As we become aware of the grieving process, we recognize where we are and what we feel.Â This allows the opportunity to find a way to deal with each stage and the emotions therein. Ultimately, we must recreate an identity without this person actively in our lives. The loss and the grief become a part of us. The grieving person can make things worse by expecting that “one-day” he/she will never feel this pain anymore. Acceptance is key here. The pain does not just disappear. Instead of focusing on wanting the pain to disappear, the grieving person may find it better to focus on the day when the loss and pain are manageable parts of life.
In lieu of the recent deaths on campus this semester, the University Counseling Center would like to offer assistance to anyone going through the grieving process. Please contact the UCC at 985-448-4080 to make an appointment.