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The Reality of Grief

March 16, 2021
by TammyS | For Seniors

The Reality of Grief

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Grief affects each of us in different ways.  If you are losing, or have lost, someone or something that you love, be prepared for the reality that grief will drag you through.  From the common first emotion of debilitating shock to later emotions such as isolation, loneliness, and a desperate longing for the loved one that seems as though it will never go away.  As hard as it is to go through, grief is a natural and normal response to a loss that has occurred or is expected to occur.

Grief is a process that cannot be rushed or brushed aside as if nothing has happened.  Our emotions must be felt and processed in order to reach a place where we accept the loss and are able to move on, live with the loss, and be where the pain is no longer unbearable.

By understanding the grieving process and the stages that we go through, we can better understand and be more prepared to deal with our pain and grief.  To begin, let us address the seven stages of grief.  The Kubler-Ross model for grief listed five stages, but over the years two more stages have been added.

  1. Shock and/or Disbelief - When a person experiences an unforeseen, heartbreaking loss they can go into a state of shock and experience numbness or tingling in extremities, feeling dizzy or faint, and in severe cases not being able to move.  Shock can leave one mentally and physically incapacitated and interfere with everyday activities such as working, daily responsibilities, and taking care of yourself.  Shock can be different for everyone, but getting medical treatment and therapy is recommended for someone who is experiencing long term effects of shock that they cannot seem to get over.
  2. Denial – This stage helps us to minimize the overwhelming pain of loss by denying or ignoring that the loss has happened or is going to happen.  Some may totally deny the loss (“There is no way that my loved one has cancer.  I don’t believe it.”) or they will minimize the effects (“My loved one will be OK – the doctors will find a cure.”)  Denial is our brain’s defense mechanism that helps us find a way to maintain our sense of well-being.
  3. Bargaining – You may feel so desperate that you are willing to do almost anything to eliminate or lessen your pain.  Once you see that anger cannot solve the problem, that’s when bargaining may begin.  You desperately ask some higher power to make a deal with you.  For example, you will never miss church again, you will quit smoking, you will be a kinder person, etc., if only your loved one can be saved from death.
  4. Guilt – Some will feel guilt at the loss or impending loss.  They may feel they didn’t say or do enough for the person while they were alive, they should have visited more, been kinder, made the wrong decision in their medical care, etc.
  5. Anger – It is also common to experience anger after the loss of a loved one.  Anger is an emotion that comes up when we must face an obstacle we are unwilling to deal with and is basically a powerful rejection of your loss.  After getting terrible news, it can be common for our bodies to try to solve our emotions through anger.  You may feel or express anger towards yourself and/or others – perhaps the doctors who provided care, other relatives, and even God.  You are unwilling to accept the fact that you have lost a loved one, so you rebel against it and look for someone or something to blame.
  6. Depression - Depression shows up when the awful reality becomes clear, and the inevitability of death becomes certain.  It is the stage at which a grieving person may become frozen in their tracks and fall into a serious depression due to feelings of powerless.  A feeling of emptiness occurs and seems as though it will last forever.  There may be a lot of crying and feeling that one does not want speak to, or even be around others, as the motivation and energy to do so is just not there.
  7. Acceptance/Hope - Once you have left behind the feelings of powerlessness, you move to a less intense and more neutral state of mind.  You acknowledge how the loss has affected you and how you are going to go forward without blaming others or yourself.  You can lift your head and begin looking forward toward the future with a more positive outlook.

Even though everyone manages grief in their own unique way, there are characteristics or stages that most people will go through as they process the loss of a loved one.  Some will go through each stage of grief almost chronologically, even though it is rare to experience the stages in a linear manner.  Everyone handles their emotions differently.  While some may skip a stage altogether or go through the stages in a different order, it depends upon everyone’s personality as to how they deal with grief.  

The important thing to remember is, should you find yourself stuck in any one stage for a period of time you feel is impacting your mental and emotional health, seek the counsel of a health care professional.

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