What are Bereavement and Grief?
Bereavement and grief aren’t light-hearted topics and they affect us all in some way. Bereavement refers to the process of recovering from the death of a loved one. Grief is a reaction to any form of loss. Both encompass a wide range of emotions such as fear, anger, and deep sadness. The process of adapting to the loss of a loved one can dramatically change from person to person. This depends greatly on his or her background, beliefs, relationship to the person who’s passed, and other factors. Common symptoms of grief can be physical, emotional, or social. But, these symptoms can often be addressed via grief counseling.
Common Symptoms of Grief
- Crying and sighing
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of sadness and yearning
- Feelings of worry or anger
- Feelings of frustration or guilt
- Feeling detached from others
- Self-isolation from social contact
- Behaving in ways that are not normal for you
Ways People Grieve over Death of a Loved One
Every grieving experience is different. A person may be able to continue their day-to-day routine after one loss, yet not be able to get out of bed after the loss of someone else. Whatever your symptoms are, grief counseling has been proven to help.
Five Stages of Grief and Loss of a Loved One
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a model to explain how terminally ill patients process their own dying experiences. In her book, On Death and Dying, Kübler-Ross describes five particular stages. These would eventually be more often referred to as the “Five Stages of Grief.” Her initial work focused on the experience of the dying. But, it has found immense application for those of us who suffer from grief after a loved one dies.
Denial, after a loved one dies, can be both literal and experiential. Disbelief sets in when the officer rings the doorbell to inform her that her husband just died in a car accident. “There must be some mistake, I just saw him 15 minutes ago before he left for work,” she says. It is also common, days and weeks later, to feel as though he may walk through the door any minute as if returning from a vacation or a work trip. Denial is the disbelief and unacceptance of both the fact and the implications of a loved one’s death.
Anger is the overflow and intense shockwave of emotion related to the brain acknowledging that death has happened. Anger can be short and abrupt or long-lived. Depending on the circumstances, many people may have great difficulty moving forward from this stage. The death of a child, a wrongful death, death by violence, and other circumstances may cause complexities that keep people in a holding pattern of anger.
When a loved one dies, it is common for people to bargain with reality. They may say or think things like, “If only she left in her car five minutes earlier then she would have avoided that accident.” Or, “If only he quit smoking sooner, then he would have never died from lung cancer.” And even, “If only I had been with him, then this wouldn’t have happened.” This follows if/then thinking. People also bargain with God by praying “God, I will switch places with her if you let me,” and “I will turn my life around and become a better person if you just bring them back.” Bargaining is a loved one pleading to reverse or undo the reality of death.
Depression is the most recognizable stage of grieving over the death of a loved one. Symptoms of depression include deep sadness, fatigue, lack of appetite, despondence, withdrawal, work and school inhibition, and loss of pleasure. Up until this stage, the brain’s inability to make sense of and comprehend death has promoted fighting and resistance to accepting death. The numbness of depression is like the loss of complete will to do anything other than sitting with the cold reality that a loved one has died and is no longer with us.
The last stage of acceptance can either take the form of literal acceptance (actual reality) or implicit acceptance (implications of the loss). Getting to the stage of acceptance doesn’t make everything all better. It doesn’t take away the hurt and it doesn’t mean that you are supposed to be happy and content. Instead, it means that you have found a way to carry it and sort through how to move forward in your life. Often people attempt to shortcut or mimic this by numbing through substances or work, which only distract and help us avoid. Only when we can think about it, talk about it, and reflect on it, can we say that we have begun acceptance.
“It’s not that the weight of grief gets lighter over time, we just get used to carrying it.”
If you are experiencing grief-related thoughts, behaviors, or feelings that are distressing, please contact us today.
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