Life is filled with joy and beauty.
Being human allows us to experience great love and connection. Because we have known great love, when we lose someone or something precious to us it can hurt deeply.
Queen Elizabeth II said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Grief is a commonly misunderstood process following a loss from death, divorce, illness or injury. The symptoms that one experiences can be painful and frustrating with the individual asking, “is this normal?” or “how long will this last?” Although everyone responds differently there are common stages that most people experience to some degree.
Denial is particularly prominent in the time immediately following a loss but can come back quite often. Denial is a defense mechanism or “trick” that our mind uses to keep us safe. The information about a loss is often too painful and our brain cushions the blow by denying it.
Anger is another way our brain attempts to protect us from the gravity of the loss. Anger toward others or even God, feels more powerful than sadness and can act as a bridge to get to the other more painful emotions underneath.
Guilt/Bargaining becomes the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” in an attempt to change the outcome. Sadly, we cannot rewrite history to bring back our loved one or the loss of a marriage, but our brain is trying desperately to make sense of it.
Depression can be a dangerous stage to be in. It is absolutely normal and expected to feel sad and unable to manage daily life at times but left unchecked it can become debilitating. If depression leads to thoughts of suicide or renders someone unable to participate in the tasks of daily life it is time to seek help.
Acceptance is not a sense of being “OK” with what has happened rather, it is an acknowledgement of the reality. A person may never feel “OK” with the reality of living life after losing someone or something important. Acceptance is about recognizing “it is like this now”, a different life. They may catch a glimpse of acceptance only to feel overwhelmed with grief and find themselves back in denial, anger, or depression.
It is important to note that each of these stages can come and go daily, weekly, or even from one hour to the next. Unfortunately, being in one stage doesn’t mean you won’t return to it ever again. There is no graduation but rather grief is a journey toward learning how to live life differently after loss.
Grief can feel unbearable at times so take good care of yourself. Recognize that feelings or emotions are temporary and may come and go in waves.
“You will survive, and you will find purpose in the chaos. Moving on doesn’t mean letting go.” — Mary Van Haute
Deana Kahle, M.S, LMFT is a California licensed psychotherapist who works, primarily, with first responders and their families.