Many people believe that they can overcome grief through willpower alone or that they have a choice about how deeply or how long they grieve. But the emotions that accompany a loss can be powerful and overwhelming. It can help to know what to expect and what is “normal.” That way, when you experience loss you won’t add confusion, guilt, or self-criticism to the emotional mix.
Grief Is a Normal Part of Life
Because loss is inevitable, everyone will feel grief at some point in their lives. But we don’t just grieve when a loved one dies. We also grieve when we lose a pet, our job, or find out that we have a chronic or terminal illness. When something unexpected occurs, you may even grieve the loss of a dream that you had for yourself. Everyone grieves differently and for different reasons.
Grief Is More than Sadness
We all expect to feel sad after a loss. But it’s also normal to feel pain, sadness, anger, fear, emptiness, sorrow, guilt, or numbness after a loss. Sometimes the complexity of grief-related emotions takes people off guard. It’s best to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come to the surface.
Especially after the death of a pet, spouse, or family member, people around us want to relieve our pain and suffering. They might try to cheer us up or tell us that everything will be okay. These approaches are well-intentioned but ineffective. Sometimes they send the message that our feelings are wrong. Don’t feel pressured to appear or act a certain way to please others. If you can, be honest about your feelings and needs.
Grief May Come in Stages
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed a model of the grief cycle based on her work with people facing a terminal illness. However, they can apply to other types of grief—and often do. If you skip stages or don’t experience any of these, that’s okay, too. I present the stages only to help you understand what some people experience. The basic stages and typical thoughts in each stage are:
Grief Doesn’t Have a Time Limit
Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace. I can’t emphasize this enough. The grieving process can last for moments, months, or years. Although people around you might suggest that you are grieving for too long, they are misinformed. Your grief is personal and natural. At the same time, it’s important to seek help and support at some point so that you can regain your strength. When you’re ready, consider counseling or a support group. Anniversaries of the loss can be especially hard, so plan to have the support you need in place during times when your grief might resurface.
Grief Is Difficult but Not Permanent
In the depression stage of grief, you might feel like you’ll never recover. If persistent grief interferes with your ability to work or enjoy life, you might benefit from counseling or a support group. The right therapist or a support group of people in similar situations can offer the comfort and understanding that you need. There is no way to predict how intense or enduring your grief will be. But with a little support and the passing of time, grief fades away. Eventually we come to accept loss and, perhaps, even grow from it.
If you feel hopeless or have thoughts of harming yourself, contact your local crisis center, therapist, or the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to get help.
Sources: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model