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Understanding the Grieving Process

June 13th, 2018 John Roland

This is the second article in a 4 part series related to the grief process.  We hope these articles bring comfort to those hurting from the loss of a loved one.   We will post the remaining 2 articles during the next 2 weeks.  As always, we are ready to assist you in this process.  Please feel free to contact us with questions.

 

Understanding the Grieving Process

by Patricia Smith

Emotional Health

“Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction,” writes author Molly Fumia. “The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.” 1

Fumia says it well. When it comes to grieving the death of a loved one, there are no linear patterns, no “normal” reactions, no formulas to follow. The word “grief” is derived from the French word “grève,” meaning a heavy burden. Indeed, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual implications can be overwhelming.

While grief is an expected response to a significant loss, the unfamiliar emotions that arise can lead to feelings of helplessness, fear and isolation.

Following a death, everyone works through these stresses differently. Some are instantly devastated; others feel numb and disconnected. Some withdraw socially, while others reach out for support. What’s more, just when the initial shock begins to subside, a deeper sense of reality and despair sets in. Those who grieve may need to learn new skills, adopt different habits and adjust to daily life without the physical presence of the person who died.

Although grieving is an individual experience, there are symptoms many people share after suffering personal loss:

  • Feels physically drained
  • Can’t sleep at night
  • Forgetful and unable to think clearly
  • Noticeable change in appetite
  • Physical distress such as chest pains, headaches or nausea
  • Stays extremely busy to avoid thinking about his or her grief
  • Eats, drinks watches television, etc. excessively
  • Participates in harmful activities
  • Senses or dreams about the deceased
  • Becomes withdrawn, lonely and apathetic
  • Frequent sighing and crying

Each person sets his or her own pace when grieving. There will be ups and downs, moments of relief followed by moments of anguish. The first few days after someone dies are generally the most intense, marked by chaos, strong emotions and a “dreamlike” sensation.

Over time, a host of emotions may emerge. From guilt to remorse to anger, reactions vary from person to person. It’s not uncommon for grieving loved ones to ask questions like Why did this happen? Where was God? or Why didn’t the doctors find the cancer sooner?

Among those mourning a death, some find the pain diminishes within weeks or months. They arrive at a place of acceptance, peace and hope for the future. They reminisce about their deceased loved one instead of feeling consumed by memories.

For others, the healing process persists and it is difficult to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. Everyday events and significant life markers are painful reminders of what could have been.

If debilitating symptoms continue longer than six months, we suggest seeking professional help. A Christian counselor or therapist can help you release the emotions you may have stored up inside. (Call Focus on the Family at 1-800-A-FAMILY and ask for the counseling department. We can refer you to someone in your area who can help you through this difficult time.)

The intensity of grief may relate to the following factors:

  • Whether the death was sudden or expected
  • Your feelings about the person who died
  • Your personality, family background, coping style and life experience
  • Your belief system and view on death
  • How those around you react and support you

The grieving process can be long and isolating, yet it’s crucial to accept support rather than grieve alone. Talking about grief is an essential part of healing. Receiving reassurance and feeling understood will help make the recovery process more complete during one of life’s most challenging times.

  1. Fumia, Molly. (2003) Safe Passages.York Beach, ME: Conari Press.

Copyright © 2007 Patricia Johnson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Coping With Death and Grief

May 30th, 2018 dwalsh

Coping with the loss of a loved one brings many emotions.  It is important and helpful to understand what grief is and the processes of grief.  This is the first article in a series written by Patricia Johnson and shared by Focus on the Family.  We will share an article weekly for the next 3 weeks to complete the 4 article series.  We hope these articles will answer some of your questions and provide comfort at a time when you need it most.  

Life Challenges

Emotional Health

Coping With Death and Grief

Death is inevitable, yet the loss of a close friend or family member always showers us with a range of emotions. One day we might desperately try to avoid the pain, anxiety and feelings of helplessness we feel when a loved one dies. Other days, we feel like life has returned to normal—at least until we realize that our life has changed irrevocably.

Despite the gamut of emotions we feel, grieving for a loved one helps us cope and heal. The intense, heart-breaking anguish indicates that a deep connection has been severed. Without a doubt, grieving is painful. But it is also necessary.

Going forward doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one who died. Enjoying life again doesn’t imply that the person is no longer missed. Piecing together your shattered emotions doesn’t mean you, somehow, betray a friend or family member. It simply means that your grief has run its course.

While no single pathway through grief exists, people do share common responses.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief,” which represent feelings of those who have faced death and tragedy.

1Based on her years of working with terminal cancer patients, Kübler-Ross proposed the following pattern of phases many people experience:

  1. Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  2. Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  3. Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  4. Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  5. Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what has happened.”

Although these are common responses to loss, there is no structure or timetable for the grieving process. That said, understanding grief and its common symptoms are helpful when grieving. Recognizing the difference between trauma and depression is also beneficial.

Besides understanding how stress can take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need to understand the practical guidelines to ease the process. These include taking care of our bodies, spending time with others and reaching out to the church community.

Finally, there will come a time when someone close to us experiences a significant loss. Knowing how to respond to a grieving friend is a good first step in acting as a reliable companion.

The death of a loved one is a shattering experience with far-reaching implications. As difficult as the loss may be, it is possible to move forward with hope for the future.

  1. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. (1969) On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillian, p. 45-60.
Copyright @ 2007 Patricia Johnson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.