The Grieving Process
Experts describe the process of grieving and the emotions of grief in various ways. The most commonly described reactions are: Shock, Denial, Anger, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance and Growth. Some people experience the grieving process in this order. Most often, a person feels several of these emotions at the same time, perhaps in different degrees.
If the death comes suddenly, as with an accident or murder, shock is often the first response people feel. Even if the death is anticipated, there may be disbelief at its finality. A person may be numb, or, like a robot, be able to go through the motions of life while actually feeling little. At the same time, physical symptoms such as confusion and loss of appetite are common.
Shock and denial are nature’s way of softening the immediate blow of death. Denial can follow soon after the initial shock. People may know their loved one has died, but some part of them can’t yet accept the reality of the death. It is not uncommon to fantasize that the deceased will walk through the door, as if nothing has happened. Some people leave bedrooms unchanged or make future plans as if the loved one will participate, just as in the past.
Anger is normal. It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and causing a sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did not do enough, or at a murderer who killed without remorse. People of faith may feel anger at God, for allowing so much pain and anguish. Anger may also be directed at oneself for not saving the life of the loved one. It can be a mild feeling or a raging irrational emotion. It can test one’s faith in religion or even in the goodness of life.
Few survivors escape some feeling of guilt and regret. “I should have done more” are words that haunt many people. Were angry words exchanged? Most people are very creative in finding reasons for guilt. So many things could have been done differently “if only I had known.”
Sadness is the most inevitable emotion of grief. It is normal to feel abandoned, alone and afraid. After the shock and denial have passed and the anger has been exhausted, sadness and even hopelessness may set in. A person may have little energy to do even the simplest daily chores. Crying episodes may seem endless.
Time alone will not heal grief. Acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain may free the survivor from a yearning to return to the past. Accepting life without the lost loved one may give way to a new perspective about the future. Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but rather using the memories to create a new life without the loved one. Hoping for things to be as they were may be replaced by a search for new relationships and new activities.
Grief is a chance for personal growth. For many people, it may eventually lead to renewed energy to invest in new activities and new relationships. Some people seek meaning in their loss and get involved in causes or projects that help others.
Some people find a new compassion in themselves as a result of the pain they have suffered. They may become more sensitive to others, thus enabling richer relationships. Others find new strength and independence they never knew they had. After the loss, they find new emotional resources that had not been apparent before.