Although psychologists have found some patterns in the way that people handle grief, the emotions associated with loss hit everyone differently. Still, it’s helpful to recognize the grief and loss stages so that you can understand what you’re going through and use effective coping strategies.
The general stages of grief are as follows:
• Denial – This stage helps people get through the initial shock of a loss. It allows you to delay the powerful emotions that accompany grief so that you can cope with the experience. Denial is a pacing mechanism that lets you survive the loss. During this stage, you might feel numb, scared, confused, avoidant or even elated.
• Anger – As you come out of denial, you might be bombarded with rage. Grief, disguised as anger, anchors the feelings of nothingness that you experienced during denial. It gives you something to hold onto and connects you with your emotions. Feeling and expressing your anger can help the grief dissipate.
• Bargaining – This is one of the hardest stages because it can give you the illusion that you could have done something differently to change the loss. You consider what could have been done differently, and you might blame yourself for the loss. When you’re in this stage of grief, you’re living in the past.
• Depression – Depression can feel like a deep hopelessness that expands into the present moment. Once you have accepted that your loved one isn’t coming back and there is nothing that you can do to change that fact, you might feel profound sadness and despair as part of your grief.
• Acceptance – While you may never be ok with the loss, you can recognize it as a permanent reality. During this stage, you have to learn to live with the loss. You must acknowledge that your life has changed, and you need to adapt to your new way of living.
The stages of grief don’t necessarily progress in a linear fashion. Although denial may hit you first and acceptance may be difficult to reach, the stages can present themselves like a roller coaster. For one moment, you may feel anger. The next, you can feel acceptance. Then, you might experience depression for a few weeks. These stages of grief can make you feel as though you’re all over the place. The whirlwind of emotions can be confusing to cope with.
Grief is a normal and appropriate response to loss. But it can make you feel as though you’ll never be able to move forward. The stages of grief can make you feel crazy. It’s important to take care of yourself when you’re dealing with loss and grief.
Some grief and loss activities that can help you manage your feelings as you move through the stages include:
• Writing a letter to your loved one
• Writing a letter from your loved one to you
• Making a list of the positive outcomes of the loss
• Making a list of what you miss about a loved one who passed
• Writing how the person or experience that you lost contributed to who you are
• Creating a ritual that celebrates your desire to keep living
You may not feel motivated to do any of these things. Grief and depression can make you feel apathetic and indifferent. It’s hard to imagine that you will ever be able to enjoy life again when you’re managing grief from a loss. With time, support and understanding, you can move past the loss and grief. When you’re ready, you may need to force yourself to engage in some of the activities above until they come more naturally.
During grief and loss counseling, you may discuss grief and loss activities as well as other coping mechanisms to get through the five stages. You may be surprised that you’re feeling emotions that we haven’t mentioned here. For example, you might experience guilt or regret. On the other hand, you might be taken aback by how calm you feel.
You may think that you’re avoiding the loss by keeping your feelings inside. But doing this will only make them stick around for longer. Talking to a counselor about your grief can help you get things flowing and make sense of the loss.
At some point, you’ll need to restore your lifestyle, relationships and routine. You may feel resistance to doing this. Wallowing might be necessary for some time after a loss. With support, assistance and wisdom, you can move past your grief and loss. A therapist can help you cultivate a new way of life while honoring the loss in a healthy way.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling can help you navigate grief and loss issues and provide trusted, professional support.