Everyone will experience the loss of a friend or loved one at some point in his or her life. You will grieve the death of someone you care about, the end of a relationship, a move to a new area, the loss of a pet, or a serious illness. Individual reactions to profound loss differ from person to person. The grieving process often occurs in stages, each of which brings with it different emotions. The stages of grief differ for everyone.
When grieving, you may feel emotions such as
- Shock, which protects you from the impact of the death for awhile.
- Anger, during which you may feel let down by the person who died, or when you are looking for someone to blame for the death.
- Depression, isolation or loneliness.
- Denial of your feelings.
- Sadness or an overwhelming sense of loss.
- Anxiety, or an inability to concentrate which can become so severe that you cannot function.
- Relief, because your loved one is no longer suffering.
- Longing, or wanting everything to return to the way it was before the loss.
There is no right way to grieve. Everyone’s stages of grief do not occur in the same order, nor does the grieving process take the same amount of time for everyone. Grieving may progress over a period of years or even longer, depending on many individual factors, such as depth and length of relationship with the person you have lost. The grieving process usually consists of the following stages, but not everyone goes through all these stages.
Factors That May Prevent Grief from Lessening
- Avoiding your emotions
- Over-activity to the point of exhaustion
- Alcohol or other drug use
- Making unrealistic promises to the person you have lost
- Unresolved grief from a previous loss
- Judgmental relationships
- Resenting those who try to help
Coping with Loss
A Summary of William Worden’s “Tasks of Grief” Model
(Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, 4th ed., 2008).
Task 1: To accept the reality of the loss.
The mourner may have trouble coming to terms with the fact that there was a loss. People may try to protect themselves by denying the loss. You may hope that you can reverse the situation, but for most people this is a short-lived illusion. Once you have accepted that you have suffered a loss, you are able to move on to the second task.
Task 2: To experience the pain of grief.
Acknowledge and work through both the emotional and behavioral pain associated with loss, or it will manifest itself through forms of aberrant behavior. Very often you may people outside your situation give you messages such as, “You don’t need to grieve,” or “You should be over this by now.” Their reactions to you reinforce your defenses, and you may deny that you need to grieve. If you do not work through the pain you permit yourself not to feel when you should instead allow yourself to experience the pain and to know that one day it will pass.
Task 3: To adjust to a changed environment.
Re-define the loss in such a way that it benefit you. For example, losing your job may mean that you are temporarily unemployed, but it may also be a perfect opportunity for you to change careers, go back to school or travel. Failure to adapt to your loss can be problematic. Often people work against themselves by promoting their own helplessness, by not developing the skills they need to cope, or by withdrawing from the world and not facing up to reality.
Task 4: To withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship.
The final task in the grieving process requires emotional withdrawal from the loss so that this emotional energy can be reinvested in another aspect of your life. Many people find this difficult to do because of the risk of reinvesting their emotions and energy in another relationship that may also end in loss.
Online Resources About Grief and Loss
- Grief and Loss will help you support both yourself and others as you recover from losses.