Grief comes in many forms and is often misunderstood. In some cultures, grief is embraced and freely expressed. In other cultures, it is suppressed, and the unspoken idea is it’s something “to get over” after a prescribed period of time.
In American culture, there are rituals for death and loss, but they are generally confined to one or two days with a wake, viewing, and/or a funeral. This allows little time for grief to be felt, processed, and integrated into life.
The path to integrating the pain can be long and arduous, but it helps to understand grief takes many forms. Some are familiar such as crying, feeling depressed, and prayer. Others tend to be a surprise such as the intensity of feelings coming to the surface when participating in everyday activities like waiting in line at the movie theatre when suddenly the smell of popcorn is a reminder of time spent with the lost loved one. These reminders hiding in the shadows can oftentimes be the most difficult to cope with because they are unexpected. In those moments, let the feelings come – don’t shove them down. It’s important to remember the pain will pass, but for this period of time, let yourself feel it.
When a loss happens, there are stages of grief. According to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Anyone who experienced a loss can relate to each of these feelings, but it’s important to realize these stages are not linear. They do not occur one right after another in a perfectly neat package until the grief concludes. These stages are often mixed up and could occur multiple times in any order when grieving. Eventually, the person settles into the acceptance stage and has the ability to move forward from the intense pain of the loss, but it’s a long and sometimes curvy road to get there with some backtracking and turnarounds as well.
Dealing with grief is difficult and painful. The feelings are deep, intense, and sometimes overwhelming. In those first few days of managing grief, be kind to yourself. Lashing out, crying, feeling numb, or feeling relief are all normal reactions. Particularly if someone has been a caretaker of the deceased or there was a contentious or even abusive relationship, they may feel relief at the loss and then guilt for feeling that way. It’s so important to know that in these early days of grief, all feelings are acceptable. It is not helpful to tell ourselves or others who are grieving that there is a right way to feel or do things. The right way is whatever way works for the person grieving.
It’s important to seek help when grieving whether that means finding a therapist or a close friend who can listen and provide much needed emotional support to assist in managing the pain. Additionally, asking for help is a must during the early days of grief. Making meals, taking care of children and the household, shopping for groceries, these are all things that can be overwhelming in the face of loss – ask for and receive help gracefully.
Grief does not have an endpoint, but the intensity of it does. Feelings of sadness will always be there when thoughts of the loss are present, but those feelings will not always be overwhelming. The intensity will subside and you will be able to integrate the loss into your life in a way allowing you to honor the person and continue living your life to the fullest. “Remember the good times” is a cliché, but a helpful one during times of grief when recounting the love, laughter, and fun your loved one brought into your life. Those memories will help you realize life is about the good times, and continuing to live yours with happiness is a way to honor the one who is gone.
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