Grief is a universal human experience that some people are apt to be faced with more often than others. Whether it’s the passing of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or even the loss of a job, grief is a natural response to change. In this blog, we explore the various aspects of grieving and offer insights into how to navigate this and work towards healing.
Grief is not a linear process for anyone, regardless of the situation. It’s a deeply personal journey that differs from person to person. The stages of grief, usually described as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, were originally introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. While these stages provide a framework for understanding, people may move through them in their own way and at their own pace.
Each person handles grief differently. Even within an immediate family, you are likely to see a variety of responses to loss. Some people prefer not to discuss the loss while others need to speak about it in order to cope. Withdrawing, not eating, and exhibiting signs of depression is not uncommon, but going about daily life as if nothing has happened is a common experience as well. Understanding that your own response is not likely to be the same as others, regardless of how close in relation you are, can help provide a sense of understanding and peace.
What is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief is a newly recognized term that refers to the kind of grief that does not recede with time and inhibits a person’s ability to move through daily life. Some signs and symptoms of this type of grief are:
- Intense and Prolonged Distress: The grieving person experiences intense emotional pain and suffering that persists well beyond the expected timeframe for grieving.
- Preoccupation with the Deceased: There is an overwhelming focus on the deceased person, difficulty accepting their death, and persistent yearning for their presence.
- Avoidance of Reminders: The individual may avoid situations, places, or people that remind them of the deceased, as these reminders trigger intense distress.
- Difficulty Moving Forward: A sense of feeling stuck or unable to move forward in life without the deceased person, leading to impaired functioning in daily life.
- Social Isolation: Complicated grief can lead to withdrawal from social interactions and a decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Intense Emotional Reactions: The person may experience intense emotional reactions, including anger, guilt, bitterness, or a feeling of emptiness, that do not ease over time.
- Physical Symptoms: Complicated grief can manifest as physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, appetite changes, and physical pain.
- Loss of Sense of Self: The grieving individual may struggle with a loss of identity or a sense of purpose, feeling as though a part of them has been lost with the deceased.
- Difficulty Trusting Others: Trust issues and difficulties forming new relationships can arise due to the fear of experiencing another loss.
- Suicidal Ideation: In very severe cases, complicated grief might lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Allow Yourself to Feel
One of the fundamental aspects of grieving is allowing yourself to feel the full range of emotions that come with it. It’s common to experience sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, and even moments of joy when reminiscing about the person or thing you’ve lost. Suppressing these emotions can hinder the healing process, which is why it is never recommended. Instead, try to embrace your feelings without judgment. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist who can provide a safe space for you to express yourself.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grieving, there are some proven coping strategies that can help you navigate this challenging time:
- Listen to Music: Studies have shown that memories and experiences are deeply linked through music. When you find yourself down, throw on a song that reminds you of happy memories with the person you have lost. This can help lift your mood and bring a smile to your face.
- Self-Care: Taking care of yourself physically and mentally is of the utmost importance when grappling with a loss. Do things that bring you comfort and joy, whether it’s spending time in nature, getting lunch with a friend, shopping, or pursuing a new hobby.
- Support Networks: Surround yourself with a support network of friends and family who can provide a listening ear and empathetic understanding. Support groups or online communities can also offer a sense of belonging and validation.
- Therapy and Counseling: Getting help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in grief and loss can provide guidance and tools for managing your emotions. You can learn more about therapists and counseling options for grief by visiting New Dimensions’ website at www.nddtreatment.com.
- Rituals and Memorials: Creating rituals or participating in memorials can provide a sense of closure and an opportunity to honor the memory of what has been lost. This can be hard at first so it is usually recommended to wait some time before attempting this strategy.
Premature Death vs. Natural Aging
Grieving the loss of a loved one due to premature death is an experience unlike any other. When someone passes away unexpectedly or before their time, the shock and disbelief intensify the grieving process. Coping with unfinished business and unrealized dreams can make the healing journey even more difficult.
On the other hand, the loss of a loved one due to natural aging, while still incredibly painful, is a different experience. In cases where a person has lived a long and fulfilling life, the grieving process might be tempered by a sense of gratitude for the time they had together. This form of grieving often involves cherishing memories and focusing on the legacy the person leaves behind.
Grief doesn’t adhere to a strict dichotomy between premature death and natural aging, though. Each person’s circumstances are unique, and factors like the quality of the relationship and the person’s own coping mechanisms can influence the grieving experience.
In both scenarios, you must give yourself permission to grieve fully. Comparing your grieving situation to others is unproductive and can leave you feeling even more pain. Instead, allow yourself to move through each stage of grief at your own pace and take it day by day.
Navigating the Healing Process
As you move through the healing process, try to remember that grief is not a destination but a journey. Over time, the intensity of your emotions may subside, but the memories and love you shared with the person you’ve lost will always remain.
- Practice Patience: Healing takes time, and there is no set timeline for when you should get over your grief. Be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold naturally.
- Honor Your Emotions: Give yourself permission to experience a wide range of emotions without judgment. It’s okay to have good days and bad days.
- Embrace Growth: Grief has the potential to bring about personal growth and transformation. As you move through the healing process, you may discover new insights about yourself and your capacity for resilience.
Grieving is a deeply personal journey that requires patience and self-compassion. Whether you’re facing the loss of a loved one due to premature death or natural aging, remember that your feelings are valid, and your healing process is uniquely your own. Through the pain of loss, there is an opportunity to find growth and a renewed appreciation for your own life.
New Dimensions Can Help!
New Dimensions has outpatient counseling programs for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. To learn more about our services, including psychological testing, Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP), and interventions for substance abuse, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com. To learn more about individual, family, and couples counseling visit www.mhthrive.com.