We go through grief after a loss such as death, the breakup of a meaningful relationship, or losing a job.
The recent and sudden death of someone who was one of the funniest, most engaging people I have ever met, prompted me to write this post. His best friends’ eulogy at the funeral on Saturday was so moving, and a reminder of how much even the smallest positive interactions with people can make a difference in someone’s life.
I remember when my best friend died when I was ten, I went into shock. I couldn’t bring myself to go to her funeral (which is something I regretted because it took me longer to say goodbye). I learned a lot about grieving during that time and after, even before I went to school for psychology. However, nothing prepared me for the death of my cat. I cannot believe how long it took me to get through it. People that didn’t have pets couldn’t understand what the big deal was. I know everyone says this about their pet, but I had the best cat ever. He could give side eye like nobody I know. I learned from him!
If you’re going through a loss of your own such as death, relationship breakup or job, everyone goes through a process. I’ll give a brief explanation as well as some of the tips for coping that have worked for me.
The stages of grief
Grieving happens in five stages. The emotional reactions are extremely varied and usually include periods of shock and denial, depression, anger, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and glimmers of hope. The intensity, as well as your actions and the physical responses to your emotions, can vary from mild to unbearable.
Stage 1: Denial. It’s hard to accept that such a loss has taken place.
Stage 2: Anger. You probably had no control over the loss, so the typical reaction is anger. You may lash out at others or blame yourself for the loss.
Stage 3: Bargaining. You want to trade something to reverse the loss. For example, “I’d do anything for this not to have happened.”
Stage 4: Depression. You feel hopeless about the situation.
Stage 5: Acceptance. You accept the reality of the situation and can move on.
You may not experience them in the same order, but at some point, you will go through them. You also may spend more time in one stage and others may go by so fast that you may not realize you experienced them. For me, I rarely spend any time bargaining.
How long does it last?
A common question people have is how long should grief last? It should last as long as necessary for you. Some people who haven’t experienced significant loss believe that the length of time for grieving is much shorter than what is needed. The length of grief depends on many factors including the nature of the lost relationship or job, your past experiences with loss or death, and if there were any unfortunate factors such as an accident.
If you find yourself stuck in one stage of grieving for a long time or you can’t move on, you might want to speak to a counselor for support.
Ways to cope
Each person’s pattern of grieving is unique. There isn’t one successful way to do it but there are ways to minimize the intensity of your pain.
Laugh. I know some think laughter during times of grieving is not appropriate. But I think it is very important. Most of us appreciate a good laugh. It distracts us and helps to make us feel better. Humor is a powerful and effective way to heal anger and pain, and it can connect people during difficult times.
Find support from caring people. Family or friends can provide critical support in the days and months following a loss. It’s the period where you will need it the most.
Share grief with those close to it. For example, if it is death, go to the funeral or memorial service to be with people who feel the same. I learned my lesson from missing my best friend’s as a child.
A professional counselor or support group can also provide comfort and guidance. You can interact with others who have had similar experiences and who understand and accept them.
Take enough time. It’s hard to predict a reasonable grieving timeline. It may take you longer than expected, so be patient.
Let your feelings out. Allow yourself to feel sad, angry or any other emotions that come up.
Take care of your physical health. Stress can take a toll on your health, so exercise regularly and eat well. Both can also help your emotional well-being. For example, exercise releases hormones that can improve your mood.
Practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing, meditation, and visualization are all helpful.
Stay active and busy. Doing this can help you stick to your routine as well as establish a new one if you need. Don’t cancel plans to stay home instead.
Keep busy during times that remind you of your loss (for example, birthdays and holidays). Spend this time with others.
Reach out for help. Let others know when you need company and support. Meeting with a counselor can also be helpful.
Death: Remember the good times. It’s so important. Celebrate their life as they lived it. I’m also using this as a reminder to those that know me, I want you to remember the dancing, laughter, and silliness… and ball gowns please. See my point about laughter.
Job loss: Some people may not understand the situation as much as you need, so professional counseling may help you move toward the final stage of acceptance. Or, if your company offers any job loss services, use them. Financial advisors can also help you relieve some of the money-related stress you may feel.
Relationship breakup: Don’t keep things around that will bring up feelings of sadness and make it harder for you to move forward. If you can’t bring yourself to get rid of things, have someone do it for you. Remember your positive qualities to help from letting a breakup ruin your self-esteem.
Do you have any other ways that have helped you through loss?