Everyone will experience a death and loss at some point in life and some more than others. When we lost someone, we grieve. Grief is a common reaction to losing someone we love, a natural part of the healing process. Sometimes, even the death of someone we just know, a colleague or a neighbor we don’t talk often with, can affect us and cause us to grieve and give us a feeling of sadness.
Stages of Grief and Loss
According to a psychologist, there are five stages of grief and loss that people experience – regardless of culture, sex, ethnicity, and status in life.
- DENIAL – ‘this is just a dream’, ‘this is not happening’, or ‘I will wake up soon’ are among the common thoughts of people who just found out about the death of their loved one. This is a defense mechanism that grieving people use to deal with the shock and overwhelming emotions felt after hearing such sad news
- ANGER – once the reality sets in that the death is real, the next emotion is anger. Knowing that we can’t do anything of the death of our loved one makes us angry. We tend to get angry and blame anyone for the death, sometimes, we even blame the one who died because he or she didn’t care for him or herself
- BARGAINING – once we realized that the death is real, we tend to bargain and pray for God to listen to us. We will haggle and promise anything, so we can get our loved one back. At this stage, we are full of ‘what ifs’ and how our decision could have prevented the death of our loved one
- DEPRESSION – once you begin to accept the death of your loved one, sadness sets in. You now understand the situation and how it will affect your future. Depression can cause feelings of extreme sadness and regret (thinking that you haven’t done enough for the one who died). Signs of depression are crying, sleepless nights, and losing appetite
- ACCEPTANCE – acceptance doesn’t happen in a few days or weeks. Some people even spend months before they accept the death of their loved one. At this stage, you now accept the truth that he or she is not coming back and that you are still alive, and you need to move on with your life. This stage is considered as a gift because not everyone gets to this stage. Some people end their lives or simply die while grieving due (eg health declines, depression led to an addiction to alcohol and substances).
The thing is not everyone can experience these five stages of grief. Some experiences two or three of these while some revisits any of the stages from time to time. Special occasions like holidays and birthdays often remind us of our deceased loved one and cause us anger and pain that they are no longer around to celebrate with us.
Positive Effects of Grieving
The intensity of grief that a bereaving person experienced depends on the relationship they had with the deceased. Though grieving is associated with negative feelings and emotions, going through this process has its positive effects on the grieving family such as:
- It helps the grieving family to accept the loss of the loved one
- It allows them to express pain and sadness
- It helps them process their new life, a future without the deceased family member
- It helps them maintain their relationship with the deceased even after death, wake and the funeral
How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving?
When visiting a wake, we often find it difficult and uncomfortable to express our sadness to someone who is grieving. Grief can cause overwhelming emotions hence someone who just lost a loved one might be on auto mode once you approach them. Avoid giving long comforting words – they won’t absorb it. To help someone who is grieving:
- Just be available to visit, talk on the phone or lend a listening ear
- Stay where they can easily see you or call your attention if they need anything.
- Listen to their stories if they are sharing something or expressing anger or sadness, do not correct them if they are saying something negative towards someone, even to God. Remember that they are grieving, and they are on the anger stage of grieving
- If the grieving person just wants to sit there in silence, let him be. Do not force him to talk or share or unload his feelings
- Be aware of holidays, birthdays or special occasions important to the bereaving family, be there if needed or offer help in advance
- If the bereaved is in denial, let him say it but do not support him and give false hope (if he says it is not happening, do not go by saying that ‘he is right’)
When Grief Can Be a Problem?
Losing someone causes grief. It is a normal emotion and our reaction and actions because of it, is deemed normal and acceptable in our society. Over time, grief lessens. At the onset of grief, it can also cause depression, yet depression caused by grief goes away after a few weeks or months. Grief can become a problem if, after months, you feel like you are still grieving, and it is already affecting your current relationships, your normal day to day activities and your life.
How Long Can Someone Grieve?
There is no deadline when it comes to grieving. Losing someone can affect your life forever hence grieving for someone who passed away can also last a lifetime. There is no shortcut to the grieving process as well. if you have a friend who lost someone dearly, show love and support but don’t ask them to make it quick. If you see that friend being stuck in the depression stage, advise her to seek professional help.