Everyday, millions of people journey through grief. There are people who newly join the ranks, as well as people who are far advanced on this walk. But, what is grief? What is the grief process? What may someone experience during this time? How may the react? Why, when they are further, do they still break down? This article will explain the process, and more importantly, how people may experience it at different times.
Grief is defined as the internal emotional response to a loss. These can be physical, emotional, behavioral, mental, social and spiritual. Each person will experience these in different ways. They may go back and forth between all or any of these at any time. The journey through grief is personal and unique to them, and while there is a “grief process”, not everyone will experience each piece, or in the same way. But there are common experiences and outward display of this grief.
There are four stages of grief: Shock Disbelief), Anger, Acceptance, Living Forward. Each of these stages has their own unique set of emotions with them. Some people become stuck in one stage, not moving forward in the process. Not only is this unhealthy, it also can cause you to be unbalance in your daily life.
Shock (Disbelief) is the initial stage that is entered. It is when a person first hears of the death. They may say “No”, “What?!” or may even choose not to believe the death is real. This stage is where all the emotions begin. Crying, and asking God why are common in this stage. A person in this stage is still trying to come to terms that their loved one is dead. The reality has not sunk in yet. These people may experience an emotional shut down depending on the situation. A person who finds a loved one dead will not be able to deny the death, but their minds may shut down. They may unable to answer questions regarding the deceased or even remember activities they had done in the recent past.
The next stage is Anger. Anger is a secondary emotion to others like fear, pain, and guilt. Not all people enter this stage, but it is a common reaction. People may be angry at the deceased as in the case of suicide. They may be angry at other members of the family for perceived mishandling of the care of the deceased. They may be angry at God for taking their loved one. Anger is the most common stage for people to get stuck in. They can not resolve their anger, and there for can not move on. Being stuck in this stage can cause bitterness. People stuck in this stage may turn to alcohol or drugs to relieve the emotions of the pain caused by this stage. This is the stage where some one may question their faith or even if their is a God or a higher power. The physical toll of prolonged anger is immense. Their health may decline. They may experience physical ailments. They may exhibit coldness, and indifference to others.
Of the primary emotions behind anger, guilt is the most dangerous. People will often question events that happened before the death. They may feel they caused the death, or that they were not their when their loved one died. They may question their very existence because of guilt. People in this stage often feel like joining their loved one. These are all forms of anger. Healthy resolution to this anger is very important. It is hard for people to leave this stage in certain kinds of deaths, such as murder, suicide, and DUI related crashes.They become stuck because there may not be a resolution of a legal case. This may prevent the person from having closure. If they can not resolve their anger issues, the grieving person will not be able to enter the next stage.
The acceptance of the death is actually a long process. People may try to reconcile the death to the life situation. Here is where they may realize that bad things happen to good people. In this stage, the person in grief will start to adjust to a life without their loved one. They may forge new relationships, create memorials and become activists for what was the cause death. A mother who lost her child to the “choking game” might decided to become active in bringing awareness to this. These are all healthy ways to express acceptance. When a person accepts the death, they are in fact letting go of the anger. They are freeing themselves from the destructive forces that anger creates. This is where faith may be restored. At this stage, when people feel the presence of their loved one, they are glad. It causes them less pain.
The final stage, living forward, is the stage where they continue their life without the person who died. These people realize that they are not “getting over it” or “moving on” because these sound like they are forgetting the person they lost. Instead, they know that even though the person is not here, that they can lead a fulfilling life. The deceased person will always be in their hearts, and in their memories. Memories at this stage will be less painful. But at anytime, a grief attack, a sudden intense feeling of pain may come up. This is normal, especially around special anniversaries or the anniversary of the death. It is not uncommon for some one to become depressed or down during this time. But having gone through the stages, the person will pull out of it and continue to live forward.
The grief process takes as long as the person needs it to. As each walk through grief is individual and unique to each person, the time table for moving forward is different for each person. Depending on the relationship, the cause of death, and even their belief systems all play a part of this. Knowing that each person’s walk is different will help many to comfort the grieving while not passing judgement on what is a “long” enough time. The deceased was a part of their life, and figuring out how to move forward is part of the grieving process that everyone must do.