The Stages of Grief

The work of grief cannot be hurried. It takes a great deal of time, usually a year or more. It may be the purest pain you have ever known. The death of a loved one is considered the most stressful of all life change situations. This page explains the stages of grief that are commonly experienced after the loss of a loved one. You may not experience all of these. It is important to realize that what you are feeling is natural, and with time, you will begin to heal.


Abstract illustration of a person holding their head in one hand.

Shock

Some people experience shock after a loss, saying things like "I feel numb" and displaying no tears or emotion. Sometimes there is denial. Gradually, the bereaved become aware of what has happened, and they are able to express their emotions. Other people never go through a prolonged stage of shock. They are able to express their emotions immediately.

Emotional Release

At some point, a person begins to feel and to hurt. It is very important not to suppress your feelings (anger, sadness, fear, etc.). Suppressed feelings often surface at a later time in unhealthy ways. Shared feelings are a gift and bring a closeness to all involved.

Preoccupation With The Deceased

Despite efforts to think of other things, a grieving person may find it difficult to shift his/her mind from thoughts about the deceased person. This is not unusual and, with time, should not be a problem.

Symptoms Of Some Physical And Emotional Distresses

These distresses may come in waves, some lasting from 20 minutes to a full hour. The most common physical distresses are:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • A choking feeling with shortness of breath
  • A need for sighing
  • An empty hollow feeling in the stomach
  • Lack of muscular power (eg., "It's almost impossible to climb the stairs.", "Everything I lift seems too heavy.")
  • Digestive symptoms and poor appetite

Closely associated with the physical distresses may be certain emotional alterations, the most common are:

  • A slight sense of unreality
  • Feelings of emotional distance from people - that no one really cares or understands
  • Sometimes people appear shadowy or very small
  • Sometimes there are feelings of panic, thoughts of self-destruction, or the desire to run away or "chuck it all"

Hostile Reactions

You may catch yourself responding with a great deal of anger to situations that previously would not have bothered you at all. These feelings can be surprising and very uncomfortable. They often make people feel that they are going insane. Anger may be directed at the doctor, the nurse, God, or the minister.

Often, too, there may be feelings of hurt or of hostility toward family members who do not, or for various reasons, cannot provide the emotional support the grieving person may have expected from them. Anger and hostility are normal. Do not suppress your anger. However, it is important that you understand and direct your anger toward what you are really angry at, the loss of someone you loved.

Guilt

There is almost always some sense of guilt in grief. The bereaved think of the many things they felt they could have done, but didn't. They accuse themselves of negligence. Furthermore, if a person was hostile toward the deceased, there will be guilt. It is important to note that no two people can live together without some sort of hurt being done. This is part of life and does not warrant your guilt. These hurts pop up in grief. Guilt is normal and should pass with time.

Depression

Many grieving people feel total despair, unbearable loneliness and hopelessness; nothing seems worthwhile. These feelings are normal and should also pass with time.

Withdrawal

The grieving person often tends to withdraw from social relationships. Their daily routines are often disrupted as well. Life seems like a bad dream. This is normal and will take some effort to overcome, but the rewards are worthwhile.

Re-Entering Relationships

After time, effort, airing of feelings, and a lot of love, the grieving person readjusts to his or her environment, re-establishes old relationships, and begins to form new ones.

Resolution And Readjustment

This comes gradually. The memories are still there, the love is still there, but the wound begins to heal. You begin to get on with your life. It's hard to believe now, but you will be better. By experiencing deep emotion and accepting it, you will grow in warmth, depth, understanding, and wisdom.

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