Stages of Grief and Mourning
Whatever your loss, you and many around you may go through a period of mourning that can last a year or more. Accepting grief as a normal reaction to loss and is the first stage in healing. What your grief is like will depend on your personality and the relationship that you had with what was lost (or the person who was lost). You may experience a sense of loss, despair or despondency. All of these can be normal reactions, and they will take some time to run their course.
STAGES OF GRIEF
Grief and mourning follow a fairly predictable cycle, although the time you spend in each stage and how each affects you will vary.
IMMEDIATE EFFECTS: Your first reaction to a loss may be denial, disbelief and shock; you might be unable to accept the loss, or unable to understand it. You may become disoriented, unusually distant or hyperactive. You may also be unable to sleep and—because your immune system weakens during grief—physically sick. All of these reactions, and combinations of them, are normal.
CONTINUING PAIN AND ANGER: In the weeks and months after the loss, you may still be unable to resume everything that you were doing before the loss. It may take a while before you feel entirely yourself. Try to avoid taking on unnecessary stress or activities during this time; though the rest of the world might expect you to be back on your feet, you are still recovering.
LETTING GO: During this stage, the acute pain of the loss is gone, although you may still feel some numbness and depression. At this time, you begin to say good-bye to what once was (or your loved one), accepting that it (or they are gone).
MOVING FORWARD: Finally, life begins to return to normal; your grieving process is done, and you can move on. You will still have memories of the past (or your loved one), but you will feel sorrow only occasionally.
Grief is not an entirely negative process; in fact, you (and others around you) may grow during the grieving process in ways that you could not have predicted. Here are a few ways that you (and your family) might grow:
- Your life (or family) structure may change.
- You may experience an increased sense of independence.
- You will begin to confront your own mortality or examine the transient nature of life.
- It is possible that being relieved of the burdens that existed prior to the loss might give you more time and energy.
- Experiencing the loss may help you to reevaluate your priorities.
In the event of a death – Children and Grief
Prepare your children by giving them consistent loving care and support. Make sure your child doesn’t feel at fault. Explain your spiritual beliefs about the cycle of life and loss in simple words. Giving them words to use in talking about loss is a first step to helping them understand. The most important thing for a young child to know is that someone will always be there to take care of them. You should also explain the ways that your family or community grieves. Is there a funeral, a wake, a celebration of life? Children are comforted in knowing how they fit into the routines and customs. Children should not be shielded from the sad feelings of grieving adults. It is important for your child to know you are sad, but if you are unable to attend to your child’s needs because of that sadness, seek professional help for both of you.
Strategies to Move Ahead
After the loss (or loss of a loved one), moving ahead with your own life and that of your immediate family is inevitable. This moving ahead can be difficult, but it is the natural progression of life. People change, circumstances change and life goes on. There are, however, coping strategies that can make this natural progression easier.
Remember and Honor
Remembering, honoring and celebrating what you had prior to loss is a good first step in moving ahead, this process recognizes how what was lost (or who was lost) contributed to your life and the lives of those around you, and honors those contributions. It is also a recognition that despite the fact that what is lost (or who) is gone, it can (they can) live in memory.
Reconcile Past Conflicts
If the loss did not provide an opportunity to reconcile conflicts, disagreements or other negative emotions, you’ll need to reconcile these on your own now. Try to work through the problems, forgiving both you, others involves, or the universe for failings or stubbornness, and accepting that you did everything that you could, given the circumstances. It won’t do you any good to harbor anxiety or frustration about the loss or those involved in the loss; try to accept, forgive and move on as much as possible.
Change can be frightening, but it can also be healthy. After a loss, you’ll need to accept that both you and those around you will change. Relationships might change, as will patterns of behavior. Try to accept these changes as normal and expected, working with people as they are now and not how they once were.
Commit to What is Still Present in Your Life
The living— you, your children, your spouse, your other relatives, your friends—still need you. Commit your life to them, and to yourself. Consider what you or they might need, your family or friends who became distant may now welcome you back and feel the need to make up for lost time. Rejoice in new births, in the accomplishments of your children, spouse, and siblings and—most of all—commit to taking care of yourself.
Plan for the Future
After going through a grieving process for the loss, your priorities may have shifted. You may decide in the future to spend more time doing different activities or with different people. Or you may decide to change your career, take up new hobbies, and reorganize your finances. These plans for the future are healthy and can help you regain a sense of your life and your purpose.
Rejoice in what remains consistent as a way to cope with loss.
In the event of death – Keep Memories Alive
Celebrating your elder’s life can mean keeping the memories of that life alive—through photos, writing and even telling stories. These can be particularly valuable for children who may be too young to remember much about their elderly relative. You might want to work on a special memory album of your deceased relative, including photos, mementoes, newspaper clippings and awards. This album will be valuable for generations to come. There are mini-courses or computer programs that can help you do this. Celebrate a deceased loved one’s life by creating a special memory album that includes photos, mementoes, newspaper clippings and awards.