The loss of a loved one is a dreadful event that the majority of us are likely to experience at some point in life. The earlier it happens and the more significant the loss is, the greater the intensity of the bereavement process.
This is likely due to the huge transformation sudden death will bring about in ourselves, the way we look at our surroundings, and our perspective towards life itself.
While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, dealing effectively with the associated pain is a central process that will permit us to move on with our own lives.
The bereavement process is a completely natural, but a highly personal response to loss. How we grieve ultimately depends on a multitude of factors, such as personality, support and coping mechanisms, faith, as well as the nature of the loss itself. But one thing remains in common: healing takes time and it happens gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried, and it is imperative to understand this.
Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the bereavement process is measured in years. Despite repetitively hearing comments such as “Hold on, be strong!” or “Life goes on!” it is important to be patient, and to allow the process to naturally unfold. We grieve in no one’s acceptable way, but our very own.
The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what today is known as the five stages of grief, i.e. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, we do not have to go through all these stages in order to heal.
Moreover, it is very probable that we do not experience them in a sequential order.
Personally, I like to think of the bereavement process as a roller coaster, full of steep highs and lows. The ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, but fortunately, it tends to become less intense as time goes by.
Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what really happened, and it is highly likely to deny the truth. Whilst our body is in a state of shock, we may feel numb, but we may keep expecting our loved ones to show up even though we are fully aware they are gone. We may also regret some things we did, or perhaps feel angry about a bunch of loving words that we did not have the opportunity to express to the deceased. Others may feel guilty about their inability to do anything to prevent the death of a close relative or a friend.
Profound sadness is the most universally experienced symptom of grief. It may be accompanied with feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning or loneliness. Many of us may cry, or continuously feel anxious or insecure as the death of a loved one can trigger fears about our own mortality, or the responsibilities we will now be facing alone. In addition to periods of emotional instability, the bereavement process often involves physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or gain, insomnia, intestinal disturbances or chest tightness.
The number one step of coping effectively with grief is to accept support, wherever it comes from. Now is the ideal time to turn to our close friends and family members or join an online forum / bereavement support group where we may share our sorrow with people who have experienced similar circumstances in life.
It is vital that we do not try to ignore our pain but seek to address it actively. Keeping it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. Moreover, it is vital to recognize that if we find ourselves crying in the middle of our daily routine, it does not mean we are weak, but it is often a sign that we are thinking dearly of our loved ones. Thus, we have to embrace these moments by letting go of the desire to put on a brave-front mask.
Furthermore, it is ideal to prepare ourselves psychologically for ‘grief-triggers’, due to the fact that special events, such as family weddings, holidays, or other important milestones, for instance graduation ceremonies or the birth of a child, can reawaken grief memories and mixed feelings.
It could also turn out to be helpful to express our feelings in a tangible and creative manner. We could seek to write about our loss in a journal or be conservatively open about it on social media, create a photo-album, or another form of artwork depicting the deceased person’s life, or get involved in sports or voluntary work organizations.
Whatever our personal interests are, now is the time to fill up our life with activities we like doing.
Another vital step throughout this difficult period in our life is to look after our mental and physical health. It is very probable to experience concentration difficulties, most likely because we will automatically find ourselves focusing attention on how our relative, or friend, has died, or how our life together was close to perfect before they died.
Stress and fatigue can be combated by getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly.
Moreover, counseling therapists and family physicians are always available to lend us a helping hand – most especially if we distinguish symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression from a normal bereavement process.
It is expected for grieving people to prefer spending time alone. Sometimes we are drawn to the quietness and safety we experience in our own bubble of thoughts, or else it may simply be a way of dodging other individuals, for various reasons. Even venturing out to the local grocery store or shopping mall can make us feel uncomfortable at this frustrating period in our life. At often times, we find ourselves resenting how much we take everything for granted or may feel jealous of our peers that are not going through such excruciatingly painful moments. Fortunately, these feelings are usually temporary.
Acceptance is the final, glorious step of the bereavement process.
Ultimately, we will be able to accept that loss is a basic part of our life cycle. Whatever grows must decay. Whoever is born must die.
It is only after these universal facts are fully understood and accepted, that we will find ourselves seeking alternative sources of security and happiness.
Always bear in mind that we will pull through, because we are all greater than the hardship life chooses to throw at us. Until then, I wish you all the best in plucking up the strength and courage to create a better tomorrow.