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Coping With Grief – A Personal Journey

For many, experiencing the death of a loved one is among the most trying moments of their lives. Losing a spouse, sibling, or parent leaves a deeper void in our lives than losing any other kind of loved one. Sadness and grief are understandable reactions to loss, but they might be overshadowed by shock and confusion in the immediate aftermath. Even as time passes, it is important to work through your grief and remember the good times you enjoyed with your loved one.

Everyone has their way of processing the death of a loved one, but grief is something that touches every human being. It can take months or longer to fully accept a loss. Grief is a personal journey with no predetermined ending point. Additionally, don’t plan on experiencing stages of grief, most individuals don’t see stages as sequential steps or see all of the stages. The grieving process will take on a new dimension if you had a challenging relationship with the departed. Grieving is very personal, and will be a personal journey for you, and cannot be quantified by stages or a set criteria.

From experience, we have seen that individuals with social and emotional support, those who participate in positive actions tend to process grief faster and are more accepting of their loved one’s loss. Humans have an inbuilt potential for resilience, as evidenced by their ability to overcome misfortune and carry on with life. However, some people may go through extended periods of grief during which they feel unable to perform daily tasks. Those who are experiencing extreme or complicated grieving (greater than 6 months of grief with uncontrolled emotional outbursts, in ability to complete or participate in day to day tasks, or shutting down and withdrawing from society) may benefit from seeing a certified psychologist or other mental health practitioner who specializes in grief.

Moving on with Life After Loss

Losing a loved one is a painful experience that requires time and energy, but it may also spark a search for new meaning in life. Some people have found the following methods useful in aiding their grieving process and acceptance of loss:

  • Give in to your emotions. Sadness, rage, and even weariness are just some of the feelings that could arise. All of these emotions are common, and it’s important to acknowledge them when they arise. If these feelings are preventing you from moving on in life, consulting with a mental health expert may be beneficial.
  • Please take good care of yourself and those you love. Physical and mental well-being both benefit from a balanced diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. Physical exhaustion is a real possibility during the grieving process. Verify that the people you care about are keeping up with their health maintenance routines by doing regular checks on them.
  • Make an effort to assist individuals who are mourning. Spending time with the deceased’s loved ones helps everyone’s stress level decrease. These little things, like sharing stories or listening to your loved one’s favorite music, can make a big difference for some people. 
  • Respect the lives of the departed. The anniversary of a loved one’s death is a somber reminder of the pain of loss, but it may also be an opportunity to honor their memory. Planting a garden in memory of the deceased, naming a child after them, or making a donation in their name are all appropriate ways to show respect and love.  

My Personal Experience and Recovery from Grief

A few months back, when I was at work in the pharmacy, the phone suddenly rang. I had no idea why my dad would call at that time. He knows I’m at work, I told myself. A feeble, sobbing voice met me when I answered the call and I realized immediately why he had called.

My relationship with my grandfather had blossomed recently. We didn’t see him often because he lived in another state. So, those five weeks we had together the previous winter were brief, but we made the most of them. I spent hours with him while he took me about in his rusty pickup truck, laughing about how strict my dad is, and watching The Bachelor (which I secretly enjoy).

In a way, I felt prepared. I waited by the phone for my dad to call and break the devastating news that my grandfather had passed away. His lungs were so badly damaged that he had to be connected to a respirator just to stay alive. It’s not the same to reflect on the passing of a loved one as it is to lose that person and go through the entire spectrum of emotions that grief and mourning may bring.

I did reach my lowest point at that time. However, the pain of loss and the uncertainty of existence drove me to achieve my goals. It knocked me down, but it ultimately helped me get back up. Contrary to expectations, it taught me how to live: to cherish my time here on Earth, to love fiercely, and to smile in the dark. Losing a loved one is terrible but there are lessons to be learned from the experience because it can sometimes catalyze personal development.

I found comfort in the well-established stages of mourning. Understanding these steps can also aid you in healing after a loss.

Allow the Feelings

The loss of a loved one can bring up a wide range of emotions. When you’re feeling a lot of different emotions at once, it can be easy to think that you’re “going crazy.” Feeling this way is perfectly natural, just like feeling any of several other emotions. Remember, your recovery needs to realize that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve.

Allow the Grieving Process

Relax, mourning always takes time. There is no time limit on grieving. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five phases of grief in her book On Death and Dying. These phases can occur in any order that works for you. There could be a repetition of these stages.

  • Denial: At first, what you’re going through is beyond your comprehension. It’s hard for you to accept that your loved one is gone, and you may feel numb as a result.
  • Anger: Hatred and anger are common reactions as the reality of the situation sinks in. You may be angry at yourself, the medical staff, or physicians for failing to cure your loved one or even God.
  • Bargaining: Oftentimes, survivors will attempt to bargain with their higher power as a means of coming to terms with their loss. You shouldn’t be amazed if you find yourself wishing you could make a bargain with God based on “if only” clauses.
  • Depression: Intense stress and depression is a common reaction, but it usually doesn’t persist forever. It’s natural to worry that things will change irrevocably. If Depression does not resolve and persists over 6 months, it may be beneficial to seek professional help in handling your grief.
  • Acceptance: When people talk about “acceptance,” they typically mean they’ve accepted the reality of their loss and are ready to move on with their lives. The pain of your loss will lessen, although you may find yourself returning to some of the above-listed stages occasionally. Acceptance is about learning to live with your loss, learning to rely on the love you feel towards your loved ones to help over come the sorrow of their loss.

Try to Embrace Your Life

In the book Dynamics of Grief: It’s Source, Pain, and Healing, author David K. Switzer discusses the need to rediscover one’s own life after experiencing loss. There will come a point when you have to start living your own life again, even though the grief of your loss is real and must be felt. When you put in the time and effort to heal from the loss of a loved one, you eventually reach a point where you can understand that death is inevitable. You will learn to accept the loss of your loved one and move on with your life as I did. And yes, above all else, be compassionate with yourself and trust that the agony will lessen and life will carry on.

How Mental Health Professionals Can Help

Professionals are available to assist in the process of dealing with grief. If you’re having trouble processing your feelings, you may benefit from speaking with a therapist or other skilled mental health professional for guidance. These individuals can help those suffering from depression and guide them to learn coping mechanisms and build emotional resilience. Understanding we are not alone whether it be a shoulder of a friend we cry on or seek professional help is the key to processing and moving through the stages of grief and to become whole again.