The Stages of Dealing with Grief states, “Two simple definitions of grief are
1) the conflicting feelings by the end or change in a familiar pattern or behavior, and
2) a normal, natural and painful emotional reaction to loss. ”
When lives are altered, be it good or bad, conflicts arise from the change and a period of adjustment follows. When it comes to adjusting to any type of loss, grieving is a process which requires time.
In various cultures it is traditional and customary to take many days off work after the loss of a loved one or other traumatic event. Grieving people are encouraged and even required to grieve losses over an extended amount of time. Most Americans take only the afternoon off, perhaps a weekend. In the rush to restore life back to normal, the grieving process, which is necessary for a healthy recovery from loss, is often overlooked.
Understanding the Stages of Grief provides reassurance that the wide ranges of emotions being experienced are common. I have summarized the stages as follows:
1. Shock. Shock can last a few minutes to a few days. Often those who have experienced the death of a loved one make funeral arrangements and phone calls as if nothing traumatic has happened. This is a typical reaction to tragedy of any kind. Shock is the body’s way of physically functioning those first few hours, or even days, after tragedy.
2. Emotional release. More often than not, when the initial shock wears off the emotions begin to take over. This most generally happens about the time reality sets in confirming the enormity of the loss. A flood of emotions might occur after the funeral or the signing of the divorce papers. It is important to remember that emotions are not confined to tears alone. Experiencing other emotions, such as anger or guilt, is normal as well.
3. Panic. The feeling of panic is common when a loved one dies, a job is lost or a marriage ends. Sometimes physical symptoms accompany panic such as headaches and upset stomachs. These are physical symptoms of distress. It is not uncommon to forget things and be unable to concentrate on everyday tasks. The stage of panic can come and go and often times may be repeated throughout the grieving process. As the grieving process progresses the feelings of alarm will occur in decreasing intensity.
4. Guilt is often a result of questioning if something more could have been done to save the marriage, the job or the life. It is expected to question if loss could have been avoided. Feelings of guilt are normal. However, be careful to not live too long in the stage of guilt. At some point, in order to move through to recovery, the guilt must be released.
5. Hostility. Some individuals feel angry and resentful over a loss. Perhaps there were circumstances that quite possibly could have prevented the death, accident or divorce. If this is so, feelings of hostility are normal as well. Avoid living too long in the grieving stage of hostility. Hostility can easily turn to bitterness.
6. Inability to Resume Business-As-Usual Activities. It takes time to return to the daily routine after tragedy. Remember that grieving is a journey, not a pit stop. Tragedy changes lives forever and alters daily routines. Although the desire is to resume life as soon as possible, it is important to allow the grief process to run its painful course. And though it is wise to stick to normal routines it also is wise to be flexible. In time, the ability to remember things and resume normal and regular activities will return. In the interim, keeping a notepad, pen and calendar nearby to keep track of important dates and appointments will help ease the burden through this challenging phase.
7. Reconciliation of Grief. At some point in the grief process the decision must be made to come to terms with the fact that the loved one is gone and that life has changed. The span of time between the moments of intense grief will lengthen. As this happens grief will be reconciled. As grief is reconciled, the loss will be dealt with and a balance to life will be restored.
8. Hope. Eventually, the mind and the body come to terms with the loss. Though the grieving process continues the moments are not as intense as they once were. Better yet, as grief is reconciled new things begin to happen. At this stage, life begins to become joyful again. Life begins to look hopeful. The future, once dreaded, is now anticipated.
Marsha Johnson is a writer, speaker and the author of Emerald’s Garden – How to grieve, mourn and recover from loss. See http://www.marshajohnson.net to sign up for your free Grief Recovery e-newsletter.