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GRIEVING THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE

This is a brief overview of recognized stages in the grieving process that we all go through following the loss of someone close, including pets. These "stages of grief' may be considered part of the natural grieving process and therefore part of life itself. Often it helps those who are left behind considerably if they. understand and recognize the steps through which their feelings will evolve. You can track your progress through this natural grieving process and know when your grieving is "normal" or abnormal. A sign that the grieving is abnormal may be when you appear to be stuck in one particular stage for an unreasonable period of time. Should that happen, counseling from a minister or physician or friend may be indicated.

STAGES OF GRIEF

Acute Stages of Grief - Lasts Six to 12 weeks
Grief Stages Completed in One to Two Years (Average-18 months)

1. Shock and Surprise: Sometimes losses occur unexpectedly. Even when a lengthy illness predicts a loss, the loss can still result in shock to a person's emotional and psychological being. Feelings are described as that of "being numb" - "I can't believe this is happening!" The shock and surprise stage is one during which the average person needs help with decision making and activities of daily living, particularly in the earliest stages. In this stage, the mind can be expected not to work or respond very well. People may appear well on the outside, but on the inside, they are not. They may lose their appetite, or their desire to eat. They will have difficulty sleeping. As a result, they have difficulty thinking and making decisions on a day by day basis that would ordinarily be easy. An important rule to remember at this stage is that no decisions should be made by the grieving person that involve permanent additions or changes to relationships, decisions involving changes to financial assets, transfers of titles, selling of property, etc. for at least three months. It takes this long for the individual to recover normal ability to make sound judgment.

2. Emotional Release: This is the stage where the person finally accepts that the loss has occurred. "It actually DID happen!" Friends and family can help during this time by supportive comments and often by their presence. Tears should be allowed to flow freely and the affected person may require appropriate privacy if they prefer to grieve privately. Tears provide good emotional release that can be very beneficial.

3. Loneliness: At this stage, others have now seemingly departed, but you are still abundantly aware of your grief. Enough time has passed that others are no longer available as an ongoing support system to you. You feel alone with your grief and may experience periods of utter despair and loneliness. The severity of this stage may wax and wane over a period of weeks. Advice from your pastor or physician may be helpful.

4. Physical Distress and Emotional Anxiety: During this stage, apprehension and worry develop. Those affected become very anxious of the future. "What will happen to me now? What will happen to my family? How will I ever get along now?" These are fears that may develop to other symptoms including anxiety. At this stage, it is important to seek professional help (medical, legal, spiritual, accounting, etc.) in order to deal comfortably with this phase of your life and feelings.

5. Panic: In this stage, the grief situation keeps returning. "I can't get the thoughts out of my mind. I feel like I'm losing my mind. Won't this ever stop? I can't eat or sleep." Professional counseling and often exercise and sometimes medications can help to get through this stage.

6. Guilt: "Where did I go wrong?" "If only I had ... " During grieving for a loved one, it is natural to feel guilty. If you do not, the physician often must look to find out why (with your help). It is at this stage of grieving (the guilt stage) that many people get "stuck". If they do not progress from this stage, then severe depression and feelings of self-worth may develop. You must progress through this stage or the natural healing process will be jeopardized. Do not hesitate to get spiritual or medical help or counseling if you are bogged down with thoughts and feelings of guilt.

7. Hostility and Projection: In order to move from the guilt stage to the next stage, the person projects and may become hostile towards others - even those trying to help, such as your doctor, nurses, spiritual leader or whoever has tried to help. Examples: "If only that doctor had ... " "If only I had ... " "If only my friends had ... " "If only he had ... " etc. This is a natural, rational projection of anger in an attempt to keep from feeling extended self-guilt.

8. Lassitude: In this stage, you feel that all of the above stages were unproductive and you begin to withdraw from expressing yourself and prefer to "suffer in silence". Fatigue, worn out feelings, emptiness inside, loneliness, no longer comfortable talking about your feelings are typical of this important stage. Emotional outbursts often occur, but usually at home and when you are alone. This is the most difficult of the grief stages and often you'd wish you didn't have to live through this. You must find a vent for communication of your feelings in order to work out of this stage. Think about recreational activities and force yourself every day to do something for yourself that is pleasurable and relaxing. Be kind to yourself in this stage.

9. Gradually Overcoming the Grief: At the end of this stage, there is a brighter mood, more activity, with a feeling that life's purpose is more important than the past and you generally become socially more realistic. You begin to reconstruct your life in its best fashion. You strengthen your past experience by having a goal . for your future life. This is an important and very satisfying stage on the road to healing.

10. Readjustment to Reality: This stage continues after one to two years of grieving. There is a common misconception that the grieving should be over and the weepiness should end after three or four months and the person needs to "pull up their socks and get on with life". The fact is that the average grieving period is 18 months. In the case of a parent of a child, or a child of a parent, this grieving process is generally at least two years. Anything less may be considered abnormal. Grieving through these various stages must be allowed to take its course and not be rushed. Symptoms of anxiety and depression must be confronted and worked through with the help of professionals if and when needed.

Those of us who have experienced the loss of loved ones know that healing does occur and acceptance makes life a lot more comfortable, but the mind never forgets. When you being to realize that death and dying is part of the natural cycle of life, and the grieving process extending for up to two years is also part of that natural process, then losing a loved one becomes a little easier to accept.



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