There are no words that can be spoken to erase the hurt and the pain. But we are hoping that understanding the grief process will enlighten you as to what to expect and how to understand what you might be going through and experiencing. We want you to know that what you are going through is normal and you are not alone.
Depending on how someone we love dies, the grieving process can be a hard and confusing time. We experience feelings, thoughts, and sensations we may have never experienced before. In this article, we hope to put all of those in perspective to bring understanding to your journey right now or to the journey of someone you love who is grieving.
Stages of the grieving process.
As we go into the stages of grief, it is important to understand that these stages will not in any way be experienced in a linear neat predictable fashion. Grief is messy, there is no formula, these stages are just here to give a guide, a scaffolding of sorts to help in this difficult process. There are no expectations of how long one person stays in one stage, sometimes it can feel like you experience all those stages in a day! All that is normal and to be expected.
When someone gets that awful call, or when the doctor comes out of a hospital room to pass on the news that our loved one has not survived, we are mostly to experience a period of denial. This is when our brains and heart cannot even fathom the reality that our loved one is truly gone.
This is a common defense mechanism that helps us process the initial shock of what we have just heard. This is so that the impact is not severe, and that we gradually come to terms with the situation.
Anger.Someone we love has just died. This is too much for us to bear. The unfairness of it all, the hurt and the pain, the loss and the shattered hope we had bring us to a place of anger. This anger is real and visceral, it happens when we have come to terms with what has happened.
This anger can be directed at the person that has died, at God for not healing our loved one, at ourselves for not having done better to help, the doctors whom we feel could have done better. This anger is a mask for all the intense emotions we are feeling.
This stage is filled and mostly motivated by feelings of intense guilt. There is an inventory of sorts to see what could have been done differently so that we would not have arrived at losing our loved one. This stage also calls into play going to God and asking for a miracle, asking for healing, even after death.
Depression in the face of grief is what happens to us when we finally understand that our loved one is truly gone and there is nothing we can do to change the situation. This stage of hopelessness is hard and can conjure up feelings of having a heavy heart.
Confusion and deep emotional pain are themes of this stage. This is usually after the funeral is over and we try to pick up the pieces and the absence of the one we have lost. It happens after all the visitors have gone.
The stage of acceptance unfortunately does not mean that the pain will all be gone. It just means that after all that’s happened, it is time to acknowledge that life will be different from here on and make necessary, and sometimes painful adjustments.
This is when one is being intentional about their healing journey and looking for a healthy way to move on. A person starts making necessary arrangements to function in this new season.
Finding meaning, the sixth stage of grief.The sixth stage of grief is the work of David Kessler, who through his extensive work as a Grief Expert. Having worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the person responsible for the above stages, Kessler felt it important to add this stage which is meaning-making.
Through his loss and helping those who have lost loved ones, Kessler proposes that we also experience a stage of meaning-making. This is in no way trying to put a positive spin on loss, the loss is loss, and it is devastating. The meaning-making according to David does not come from death, but from what we can be grateful for in having had that person in our lives.
The meaning comes in what we do after the person has died, how we carry their legacy, and how we honor their life.
Trauma and the grieving process.
Trauma and grief can be experienced at the same time if the cause of death was traumatic. This means that it was unexpected, there was damage or violence to a loved one’s body, or was life-threatening to the one who is grieving as well. Examples are suicide, road accidents, natural disasters, fire, drowning, or murder.
This type of grief will need professional help from the onset for survivors as they are experiencing both trauma and grief at the same time. These two can overlap and hinder personal functioning.
Coping with grief.
These are steps you can take to cope with grief.
Acknowledge your loss and feelings.
Emotional pain is hard to acknowledge at times because it leaves us feeling vulnerable. This fear of vulnerability makes us not want to acknowledge how we truly feel. With emotional pain, you can only heal that which you allow yourself to feel. Grief is the same.
Seek god’s guidance and comfort.Though it might feel hard to go back to God after loss, it is important to know that He understands our pain and is not looking to us to be strong in this time. His word in 2 Corinthians 12 says His grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in our weakness. Spending time with Him, being honest about how we feel, and seeking the prayers of others can be a great source of healing and encouragement.
If we are physically fit, our whole body will also help in our healing process. Be conscious of what you eat, how much you sleep, and how much exercise you are getting. Our body can be our ally during this hard season. This means that we do not turn to harmful substances to cope, like drugs and alcohol as that will lead to other problems.
Join a support group.
We heal in the community. When you feel it’s hard to cope on your own, consider joining a grief support group. Many churches and organizations run them as a way of offering those struggling a place where they can share their pain, gather strength from others’ experiences, and have others who understand their pain hold their hand.
When to seek professional help.
Going through the grieving process can be a lonely journey. Everyone experiences it differently so your journey with loss is unique to you. They say that the deepest loss is always yours, and needing to find assurance during this heavy and turbulent time may be paramount.
If you find that you or a loved one is struggling to cope with loss, feel free to contact me or one of the other Christian counselors in our online counselor directory. We would be honored to offer guidance, understanding, and meaning to your season of loss. You will also be equipped with healthy coping mechanisms to see you through the grieving process. Contact us today to set up an appointment.
“Watching the Water”, Courtesy of Pierre Bamin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “In Despair”, Courtesy of Whoislimos, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding a Leaf”, Courtesy of The Good Funeral Guide, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cannery Row”, Courtesy of Paolo Nicolello, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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