Although every grief is unique and unpredictable, there are many common emotional experiences that can happen in any grief due to the death of a loved one or significant person in your life. Some of them are:
We cannot afford to forget any experience, not even the most painful. — Dag Hammerskjold
- A state of shock: When sorrow and the pain of loss come flooding in initially, we instinctually shut down our emotions in order to anesthetize ourselves from the grim reality we face in grief. This initial phase of grief protects us from going into emotional overload.
- Overwhelming pain & emotions: When the shock phase begins to fade, the reality of the loss hits us. The result is overwhelming pain and emotional turmoil. As we realize how dreadful the loss is, emotional release begins to be expressed, often without warning.
- Depression & loneliness: Feelings of utter depression and isolation are common. Such depression and feelings of being all alone are normal, healthy grief responses. These feelings and thoughts will pass as we refuse to be overwhelmed by our feelings or thoughts and progress through grief.
- Physical symptoms of emotional distress: The continued emotional stress of grief can manifest itself in all sorts of physical maladies—real and/or imagined.
- Experiencing panic/fear: The emotional turmoil of grief can be overwhelming to us. Because the emotional experience is often greater than anything else we have ever endured, a sense of fear and panic is common. We begin to question our sanity and if we are doing grief “right.” An overwhelming sense of deep despair causes us to also question if we will be able to endure what lies ahead and if we will ever experience joy and happiness again.
- Experiencing guilt about the loss: We can feel real or imagined guilt for what we did or did not do for the person when he/she was alive. Acknowledging and expressing this guilt, voicing regrets and “asking” forgiveness for perceived wrongdoings can move us toward healing from these grief wounds. We must also work toward forgiving ourselves for what we did or did not do.
- Feeling anger & resentment: These “negative” emotions are normal. However, we must admit to ourselves to acknowledge anger without giving into destructive behaviors.
- Resisting a return to life: Something inside keeps us from going back to usual activities. Perhaps it is the desire to keep the memory of the tragedy alive as a way to honor the life of the loved one lost. We fear that smiling, laughing, and experiencing joy or pleasure somehow signifies that the life of the deceased is not being honored or remembered. Since the pain of grief is a reminder of the emotional tie we have to the deceased, we become comfortable in grieving and fearful that everyone has forgotten our pain. This causes us to become stuck in our grief — failing to move on toward healing.
- Realizing hope: One day “the clouds part and the sun shines in” for us. It becomes possible for us to experience joy and pleasure once again. There is a realization that there are moments when grief does not dominate our thinking. There are still bad moments, bad days and bad weeks, but they happen less and less often. There is an overwhelming feeling of “I can make it after all.”
- Struggling to affirm reality: As we move through grief, we realize that we have been changed by the experience. The deceased’s influence in our life changed us, making us better people. The loss of the person has also changed us—making us either healthier and stronger in spirit or sicker. Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Five Stages of Grief In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the “five stages of grief.” The stages of grief were developed from her studies of people with terminal illness but are also adaptable to any type of loss such as death, job, independence, etc. The five stages of grief are:
The sky takes on shades of orange during sunrise and sunset, the color that gives you hope that the sun will set only to rise again. — Ram Charan
1. Denial — “This cannot happen to me”—this stage helps us to survive the loss. Denial is nature’s way of letting in only what you can handle. As you begin to accept your loss, the feeling of grief will come to the surface.
2. Anger — “Why is this happening? Who can I blame for this happening?” Anger can be directed at your friends, family, yourself, or the loved one that died. Anger is just an indication of the intensity of your love for the one you have lost.
3. Bargaining — “If this doesn’t happen, I will…” — We want our loved one restored. We will do anything to take away the pain of losing a loved one.
4. Depression — “I am too sad to do anything” — This stage may feel as if it will last forever. You may withdraw from life and wonder if there is any point in going on alone.
5. Acceptance — “I am at peace with what happened” — this does not mean you are “all right” or “ok” with the loss of your loved one. This is accepting the reality that your loved one is physically gone. It has become your new norm. You cannot replace what you have lost, but you can make new connections and relationships. These steps are not a progressive journey. You may find yourself going back and forth between the different stages. This is normal. You might find you skip a step or two. That too is normal. No one can define how your grief will look. Just know the grief should become less intense as time passes and there will be times, especially at special events/occasions you may still experience a strong sense of grief.
AseraCare is here to help. We understand not everyone grieves the same. Please contact us if we can assist you in any way.