Grief can take many different forms
Whether that is the end of a relationship, loss of property, loss of mobility or mental faculties or the death of someone close to us, the stages of grieving that we can typically go through are similar.
Grief can be overwhelming and at the time, it may feel like it will never end. But if we understand that there are typically stages that a bereaved person often goes through, we can get some reassurance that we are not alone in this and that it will get easier.
The Grieving Process
There is no ‘right’ or ‘normal’ way to grieve. It is an individual experience and grieving follows many different patterns. However, there are common feelings and stages which many bereaved people go through.
Grieving takes place after any sort of loss, but most powerfully after the death of someone we love. It is a whole succession of feelings, which can take a while to get through and which cannot be hurried. The order in which bereaved people experience these feelings is often similar; however, we are all individuals, and phases we thought we had passed through can re-occur.
Grief is most commonly experienced after the death of someone we have known for some time. However, people who have had stillbirths, miscarriages, or who have lost young babies suffer a similar experience of grieving.
In the few hours or days following the death of a close relative or friend, most people feel simply stunned, as though they cannot believe it has actually happened. They may feel like this even if the death has been expected.
This sense of emotional numbness can be helpful in getting through all the important practical arrangements that have to be made, such as organising the funeral. However this feeling of unreality may become a problem if it goes on for too long. Seeing the body of their loved one may be, for some, an important way of beginning to overcome this. For many people, the funeral or memorial service can be helpful ways of saying goodbye to those we love.
Soon, this numbness may be replaced by a dreadful sense of agitation, or yearning for the dead person. There is a feeling of wanting to find them, even though this is clearly impossible. This makes it hard to relax or concentrate and it may be difficult to sleep properly. Dreams may be extremely disturbing. Some people feel that they see their loved one everywhere they go.
People often feel very angry at this time, towards doctors and nurses, towards friends and relatives, or even towards the person who has left them.
Another common feeling is guilt. People find themselves going over in their minds all the things they would have liked to have said and done. Guilt may also arise if a sense of relief is felt when someone has died after a particularly painful or distressing illness. This feeling of relief is natural, extremely understandable and very common.
The state of agitation is usually strongest about two weeks after the death but is often followed by times of quiet sadness or depression, withdrawal and silence. These sudden changes of emotion are just part of the normal way of passing through the different stages of grief.
Although the agitation lessens, the periods of low mood can become more frequent and often reach their peak between four and six weeks later.
Spasms of grief can occur at any time, sparked off by people, places or things that bring back memories of the person who has died. During this time it may appear to others as though the bereaved person is spending a lot of time just sitting doing nothing. In fact they are usually thinking about the person they have lost, going over again and again both the good times and the bad times they had together. This is a quiet but essential part of coming to terms with death.
As time passes, the fierce pain of early bereavement begins to fade. The deep sadness lessens and it is possible to think about other things - even to look again to the future. However the sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely. After some time the bereaved person can start to feel whole again, even though a part is missing.
These stages of mourning often overlap and show themselves in different ways for different people. Many find that the pain of a major bereavement eases within one to two years. Eventually, the deep sadness lifts, sleep improves and energy returns to normal.
Having said all this there is no ‘normal’ way to grieve and the process can take much longer. We are all individuals and have our own particular ways of grieving.
Grief That’s Unresolved
Some people seem hardly to grieve at all and return to their normal life remarkably quickly. Others may suffer from strange physical symptoms or repeated spells of depression over the following years.
Sometimes the problem is that the loss is not perceived by others as a ‘proper’ bereavement. This happens often, but not always, to those who have had a miscarriage or stillbirth. Again frequent periods of deep sadness may follow.
Some may start to grieve but get stuck. The early sense of shock and disbelief goes on and on. Others may carry on being unable to think of anything else. Occasionally sleepless nights continue for so long as to become a serious problem.
Getting support to help you through the grieving processes may be what is needed to get you through a difficult time towards coping on your own again and should never be seen as a sign of weakness. Your doctor or local Bereavement group should be able to provide support.
Bereavement coaching is often helpful some months or even years after the initial period of grieving, particularly if there is a feeling that you have become stuck and unable to move on with your life, or if there have been multiple bereavements. Here the focus is on helping you overcome barriers to moving forward, re-gaining your confidence and helping you look to the future in a positive way.
If you feel that maybe bereavement coaching could be appropriate for you, do not hesitate to call me to discuss it, without any obligation whatsoever.
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Tel: (00357) 9907 8545