What is Grief? What is normal? And when to seek help.
posted: Jan. 20, 2022.
What is Grief?
Grief is a normal emotional response to loss. It can be triggered by the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, moving, and, yes, the death of someone that we love. There are many other events that can bring grief as well, but most often grief brings feelings of guilt, sadness, loneliness, or depressed moods. Everyone experiences grief differently, so it’s important to remember that while one person may act or think one way, another may be impacted by grief in a completely different way. This can especially be true of spouses.
Traditionally, there are considered to be five stages of grief. It’s important to note that these may not necessarily be sequential steps of grief and that each of these phases may not come to everyone. A person can weave or zig-zag through these stages. At other points, you may feel as if your grief is over, but a certain situation or event can reignite the feelings of grief all over again.
• Denial – This is the stage where you say things like, “This can’t be happening.” It is completely normal for you to feel numb. During this time, it may be hard to concentrate or think about other things. Taking time to realize this is your body’s normal reaction to the trauma can give you space to give yourself grace.
• Anger – During the anger stage, typically someone will wrestle with the “why”. Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? There may be accusations at your spouse, God, or others as you try to deal with the reality of what has happened.
• Bargaining – In the bargaining stage you will say things like “I will do anything to change this.” Or, “God, if you bring this person back to me, I will…”. It is also normal to think through what happened and try to find the things that you could have done different. This stage is filled with regret and will often lead into depression as you come to grips with the reality that nothing can be done.
• Depression – Sadness is a very normal reaction to grief. As you begin to think through all the effects that this loss will have on your life, it leaves you feeling empty. In this stage it is very normal to feel lonely, self-pity, and even anxious over what is to come.
• Acceptance – This is where you begin to accept the reality of your loss. You begin to accept the feelings and emotions that you have and you begin to find your new way forward. Although sadness over your loss may continue to come at times, you have started to move forward with your life.
What is normal?
Grief is normal. Grief is healthy. But, it doesn’t feel very good. Every person who suffers loss will need to grieve. Some may try to push it off as long as they can, but, in reality, we all need to grieve in the midst of loss. Grief is what helps our mind, body, and soul heal.
It is also important to understand that there is no normal amount of time to grief. Again, it may be different for each person. One may struggle with the symptoms of grief for a short time while others may struggle for a longer amount of time. Staying present, even in the midst of your grief, is an essential task.
As one grieves, there may be some patterns that get in the way of healthy grieving. Things like avoiding the emotions, minimizing your feelings, using compulsive behaviors to cope, overworking, or using drugs, alcohol, or other substances. You will be able to avoid these tendencies as you stay present and aware of yourself and, also, invite others into your circumstances with you.
In the midst of grief, it is very normal to lean toward isolation. The pain is great and it feels as if no one else can understand. But, one of the most important things you can do is to engage with others. Turn toward your community. Let them be close to you. There are a number of mental health issues that begin to appear when someone begins to isolate themselves from family and friends in the midst of grief and loss including depression.
Some believe that once they work through the initial grief, they should never feel sad or struggle again. Sometimes the temptation here is to dismiss reignited feelings of grief, to try to push it off or avoid it ignore them altogether. The reality is that while we will heal, the memories of what happened can come rushing back in an instance along with feeling the pain all over again.
It is true that as time moves on, as long as you are dealing with your grief in healthy ways, the you will have the feelings of grief less and less. Then every once in a while something will happen to remind of you of the situation all over again. It is okay to grieve your situation while also finding joy in your present life.
When is there reason for concern?
In some cases, you may find that you are struggling to move away from your grief and that it is disrupting other parts of your life. Or, maybe others in your life are suggesting that you seek help. Don’t ignore the helpful observations of those who care about you. Sometimes we need others to see us and speak into us, when we aren’t able to do so ourselves.
If you, or a loved one, are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should seek help. You should talk to your doctor and find a trusted counselor when you are not getting any better.
• You don’t feel any grief at all – if you are in a situation where you know you should be grieving, but you feel unaffected, it would be wise to seek the help of a counselor to help you sort through your emotions about your situation.
• You are experiencing feelings of depression – While deep sadness is a normal phase of grief, if those feelings develop into a deeper depression you should seek help. When you stop caring about yourself, sleeping during the day, not eating, or closing yourself off from others, it is time to ask for help.
• You begin having thoughts of harming yourself – If you are experiencing thoughts about life not being worth living or wanting to harm yourself you should reach out for help. If you don’t know where to start, call a trusted friend. They will be glad you did. You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
• You are struggling to keep your normal routine – Grief can knock us down, undoubtedly our routine will change in the aftermath of our loss, but if you are struggling to find a way to get back on your feet, it is time to ask for help. A professional counselor is trained to help you find a way to get back to being you.
Healing from loss does not mean you will no longer feel the pain. Healing often comes with a scar. Scars remind us of what we have been through, but they also hold the hope that we can heal and move on. Sometimes we get stuck and need the help of others, but if you understand your emotions, take care of yourself, and seek support, you can heal.