One of the fundamental truths about this human experience we all share is that grappling with pain and loss is a natural and inevitable part of life. Simultaneously, few things are more heart-wrenching than losing a loved one. Navigating grief, the shock that comes with it, and the whirlwind of ever-changing emotions unavoidably leaves you feeling overwhelmed, crushed, confused, angry, lost, and exhausted. While you might feel the urge to move away from it, any attempts to suppress or ignore your pain only increase the risk of developing further mental health issues such as prolonged grief, depression, PTSD, or anxiety. Only by allowing yourself to grieve your loss and learning about the nature of this process can you come out the other side richer in life lessons, connected to your purpose, and filled with gratitude.
5 Stages of Grief by E. Kübler-Ross
Experiencing loss does not only mean coping with a death of a loved one. We can face it when going through a divorce, prematurely ending an important life chapter, or being fired from our dream job. The process of dealing with that loss – grieving – looks different for everyone:
- Some people attempt to control or minimize the expression of their emotions, while others want to share their feelings with others and dive deep into the sea of despair and heartbreak.
- Adapting to the new reality without your spouse, a dear friend, or a parent takes a lot of time, so it’s important not to limit yourself with a deadline on your suffering but rather honor your loss by allowing yourself to go through that experience at your own pace.
While you will most likely feel confused and overwhelmed, it might help you get acquainted with the five stages of grief, described first in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She explains that the grieving process is not linear, and it’s common to go back and forth between the stages in hours, days, or months.
Stage 1: Denial
|the phase of the initial shock
extreme emotional overwhelm
inability to acknowledge the loss
|intense emotional states
bouts of crying
migraines and body aches
insomnia and fatigue
lack of appetite and nausea
|denial helps to:
Stage 2: Anger
|tendency to suppress the anger often stunts the healing process||strong anger and frustration
blaming others for your loss
directing anger at the deceased for leaving you
|anger = an anchor giving structure to the grief|
Stage 3: Bargaining
|the vicious cycle of self-blame and extreme guilt, i.e. survivor’s guilt
immense pain that comes with the understanding that the loss is real after the initial shock decreases
|focusing on the past with intense feelings of guilt
“If only” and “What if” thinking
wanting to go back in time to prevent the death of a loved one
|bargaining is an attempt to decrease the pain or numb ourselves
“a form of temporary truce”
Stage 4: Depression
|facing the grief that goes deeper as you keep on living in a reality without your loved one
struggling to find meaning in the loss
|feelings of hopelessness and emptiness
very low mood and depressive symptoms
frequent thoughts about the present moment, i.e. “How can I carry on?”
|a natural and necessary part of the grieving process
finding the meaning of death and life after the loss
Stage 5: Acceptance
|arising feelings of “betrayal” as you move on
defining your new role
|accepting that your loved one is gone
ability to reflect on the good memories linked to your loved one
|a catalyst to:
connecting to your life’s purpose
3 Pillars of Coping with Loss
Grieving is a non-linear, dynamic process, resembling a pendulum constantly swinging between loss and restoration. The former boils down to processing the pain and depths of sadness, and the latter focuses on redefining your lifestyle after loss, managing new responsibilities, and strengthening important relationships with others.
While nothing can prepare you for this incredibly challenging experience, there are a couple of things you can keep in mind when navigating these rough waters:
1. Maintain a Healthy Routine
Losing a life partner, a parent, or a close friend takes a toll on your mind, body, and soul. It’s common to deal with insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, physical pain, etc.
Try your best to support and nurture your body by:
- maintaining healthy sleep habits and a fixed sleep schedule,
- eating healthy, nutritional meals,
- keeping up a workout routine.
Don’t hesitate to ask your support system for help cooking food for you, going on walks with you, or moving in with you for a while.
2. Address Your Emotions
Grief can trigger a concoction of intense emotions, which can be confusing, exhausting, and scary.
Dr. Christina Hibbert, a clinical psychologist, created a framework for embracing difficult emotional experiences called FEEL: Freely Experience Emotion with Love.
She encourages those struggling with unimaginable emotional pain to:
- remain open to all the feelings that might arise,
- try expressing them in a compassionate, non-judgmental manner, i.e. through journalling
Exploring such emotions with the assistance of a licensed psychologist can help you understand, process, and integrate your loss.
3. Seek Support
When mourning the loss of someone important to us, feeling the urge to isolate and withdraw socially is very common. In moderation, processing your grief on your own is good, yet doing so excessively heightens the risk of complicated grief and depression.
Grieving with the family and friends of the deceased, crying with them, exchanging stories and talking about the pain can help you immensely with:
- embracing the difficulty,
- honoring the memory of your loved one,
- making sense of this new life,
- celebrating the living.
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, consider getting professional help and starting therapy. Grieving in the safety of a therapeutic process can be highly beneficial as it creates an opportunity to:
- understand the complexity of your emotional states,
- receive continuous support and guidance from an experienced therapist,
- navigate your unique healing journey,
- move towards accepting your loss,
- learn healthy coping ways with emotional tension,
- make sense of your current life,
- find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
Remember that you do not have to grieve alone. Make the first step and contact us here to get professional help.