Grief is a continuing process of mourning as one learns to cope with the loss of a loved one. When someone close to you dies, it is common to find yourself in a complex array of emotions and responses. Losing someone can be a very overwhelming and painful experience, leaving behind psychological, physical and social effects as you learn to cope with your loss.
Every individual copes with death in a different way. How one grieves is dependent upon many factors such as their support system, circumstances of death, responses of those around them, faith practices, cultural belief systems, the relationship to the deceased and ones individual coping skills. What is commonly seen in the grieving process is an overwhelming sense that feels as though one can no longer endure. Understanding the different responses to grief and how one can cope with the loss of a loved one can help. Here we will talk about three common responses to grief and how one can cope with the loss of a loved one.
One of the first things people experience at the onset of losing a loved one is denial. Denial is the refusal to accept the reality of loss whether it be conscious or unconscious. This response is a defense mechanism that is a normal and functional reaction to grief. Confronting the death of a loved one can be so devastating that one is unable to comprehend this overwhelming reality, leading them to denial. Signs that someone is walking through this stage is refusal to visit the gravesite, prolonging the removal of personal belongings or not dealing with filling out necessary paperwork like that of a will. Thoughts and responses like ‘leave me alone’, ‘I’m fine’ or ‘how can this be happening’ are all part of an individuals process as they learn to accept their loss.
Though it can seem counter to what one should do, denying the death of a loved one is actually a purposeful part of the process as this stage is where one learns to sort through a mix of emotions and adjust to how things are going to be. During this stage one might experience recounting past memories as if playing a broken record. This aids the individual in helping them to accept their loss by paralleling past memories with current realities. Allowing one to have the time to walk through this stage at their own pace is the best thing you can do for them as the passing of time will enable them to adjust to their new circumstances.
Anger is a natural part of the grieving process as one accepts the reality of facing life without their loved one. In the midst of this, many experience feelings of abandonment, being cheated, frustration, confusion and hurt. As emotions stir and begin to surface, one may start to feel anger towards someone or something. Pain naturally tends to dominate our feelings, leading us to seek blame. As emotions build, anger is a person’s way of releasing energy that has been kept within becoming our inner voice that protests the loss of our loved one which we then direct towards others.
Those left to grieve commonly find themselves directing anger towards the one they lost, doctors whom they feel should have done more, family members that don’t seem to share the same feelings they do and even complete strangers. Where one has to be careful when it comes to anger, is understanding that anger can produce other emotions like guilt which can then lead to feeling even more anger; an unhealthy cycle that can prevent one who is grieving from moving forward.
Encountering intense feelings of guilt after a loved one dies is a normal reaction. Our brain tends to focus on negative thoughts during these times. We question ourselves and what we could have said or done to prevent our loved one from dying. Unresolved conflicts with the deceased or thinking that somehow we could have prevented the death from happening are natural thinking patterns for those walking through grief. As long as one holds onto guilt, they find a sense of security in thinking that they could have somehow controlled the outcome. This perception of control, though inaccurate, tends to be comforting during the grieving process. It’s helpful to process these feelings with individuals who also knew the deceased and the circumstances around their death so they can help sort through these feelings of responsibility in a healthy way.
Coping with the Loss of a Loved One
If you have lost a loved one you know how difficult it can be to keep moving forward and feel like you have a handle on your emotions, day to day and hope for the future. Acknowledging your feelings is an important step in finding stability where emotions are unpredictable, overwhelming and often heavy. Working through your feelings by finding outlets that allow you to express how you feel is a crucial step in the grieving process. Healthy conversations and creative outlets like journaling or drawing can be helpful when coping with the loss of a loved one. Having patience with yourself as you work through these emotions and allowing yourself the time to grieve at your own pace is essential as everyone works their way through this process differently and on their own timeline.
Being patient with others is also important. It’s normal to find others saying things that, though they are well-intentioned, are upsetting and sometimes hurtful. Most of the time people simply don’t know what to say or how to respond so they end up saying something that doesn’t quite come out the right way. Certain words they use can trigger feelings, causing one to become suddenly overwhelmed or agitated. Understanding that what they say isn’t meant to upset you but rather out of care and concern for you can be helpful as you engage with others.
Finding support groups where others share in similar circumstances helps in keeping one from feeling isolated or alone. Strong support groups can assist in the grieving process by offering empathy and support when one finds it too difficult to go through their day. Counseling also offers a safe place to share ones feelings with the insight of a professional who can provide guidance through what they are experiencing. Even routine doctor visits can be helpful as they can monitor any possible stress related ailments.
Coping with the loss of a loved one is a process that one will experience throughout their lifetime. There isn’t an arrival point when thinking about this timeline. Rather, a forward movement in a healthy direction that allows one to cope and move on with life.
If you are coping with the loss of a loved one, we can help. Schedule a time to talk for counseling in the Vancouver WA area.