Grief is the human reaction to an important loss in one’s life. It has psychological, physical and social components. Grief is often attributed to the death of a meaningful person in someone’s life. But grief is a process that we must go through when we lose anything of significance like a job loss, changing a home, a change in the family (divorce), moving, leaving a school, a friend transfers away, or the realization one never enjoyed a childhood. For example, a famous singer, Michael Jackson, became a star at a young age. He never really experienced a childhood, therefore, he tried all his adult life to recapture being a child. These are just some examples of a compelling loss. Often people feel like a hole has been created in their life where once this person or situation had filled. Now it is empty and has left a sadness or a missing part to one’s life. Grief is the process of missing, feeling unsettled, empty, sad, crying and wishing it were different. Hopefully, in time, the griever comes to grips with the change and finds new ways to fill in the gap left by the loss. This is normally not a quick or simple process. It is vital to realize there are no quick fixes and most people need a year or two to work through and adjust to a significant loss.
Stages of Grief:
Many years ago, a therapist (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) defined some basic stages of grief that people have found helpful. She labeled these stages as Shock (No, this can’t be), Depression (why did this have to happen?), Guilt (if only…I did this), Anger (this is not fair) and finally Acceptance (this was a terrible loss but I can find ways to go on).
It is important for the griever to understand that even though these stages may give you some insight into what you are feeling, they are NOT a step by step set of phases you go through with a limited time set. A person may experience some but not all the stages. They may feel more than one at a time. Grievers find that they may go in and out of the stages or you can go for years feeling better and then some event strikes a match to one of these stages just like it happened, yesterday. When I was 12, my uncle was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. One day he was there, the next day he was gone. Even though this was my first experience with death, no adult took the time to explain anything to me. I was confused and numb for years. I dreamt of my uncle all the time. In my dreams, he would come back and laugh that it was just a misunderstanding. Then about 15 years later, his daughter walked down the aisle for her wedding. When I saw her, I began to sob uncontrollably. All my built up grief came flowing out. A total surprise for me but actually a very healing event.
For most people, the strong reactions to grief last at least a year and it is about two years before people start to feel they have a handle on their loss. But there is no set time table. Also, grief will come and go throughout life. One day, I called my Mother. She was crying. When I asked ” why are you crying?”, she said it was her Dad’s birthday that day. He had passed away 50 years before. But on that day, she missed him and needed to grieve. It is OK to grieve. It means you are human and can love. Even animals have shown grief as in a dog that lays on the grave site of his former owner or a bird that stays by his dead mate. Grief is a process that should not be ignored. Let the feelings flow out so you can heal and move on.
For additional reading, try Healing After Loss: Daily Mediations by Martha Whitmore Hickman and “I wasn’t ready to Say Goodbye” by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair, PhD. For more articles by this author, go to www.supportivetalk.com or book a conversation at your convenience at the website.