Coping With Grief and Loss

Grief takes many forms and may be a very different experience for each person. When someone close to you dies, a period of grief is natural and is part of the healing process. It’s important to know that your grief is unique to you.

Knowing what to expect

The grief process can’t be rushed and shouldn’t be. It’s important to let yourself feel the pain when you lose someone you love. Most people find that over time the intensity of the pain lessens.

No two people grieve in exactly the same way, but many adults have similar emotions before or after a loss. The psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kublar-Ross found that seriously ill people go through five states of loss as death approaches. You may go through similar stages of grieving for the person you love.

  • Shock and denial. When you learn that you have lost or may lose, someone you love, you may find the news had to accept. You may thin, “There must be some kind of mistake.” or “This can’t be happening to us.” Thoughts like these usually pass after you have lived with the reality for a while. In the meantime, the feeling of disbelief give you emotional breathing room and protects you from the full effect of the news before you are prepared to accept it.
  • Anger. After you have begun to accept a loss, you may feel very angry. You may blame others or the person who died for the situation even if you know, realistically, that they are not responsible for it. Or, you may let out your frustration by becoming irritated easily or unintentionally doing things that hurt others. All of these feelings are normal. Anger can be a way of hiding your pain when you can’t or don’t know how to express your real feelings.
  • Bargaining and guilt. Even if you know there is little or no hope for a recovery, you may tell yourself you can do something to solve the problem. You may try to make a deal with the doctors, God, or yourself, promising to make changes if the situation will go away. You may have thoughts like, “I’ll never become angry with my partner or child again if only the cancer goes away.” It’s normal to go over past actions and think, “If only I had done this…” Many people also feel a sense of guilt or responsibility that fosters the belief that they can still or should have somehow changed things.
  • Depression. At some point, you will feel the full impact of the loss, and begin to understand what it will mean to go through life without someone you love. At this stage, you may feel very sad and perhaps allow yourself to cry for the first time. Feelings like these usually mean that you are closer to the end of the grief process.
  • Acceptance. At the final stage of grief, you accept your loss even though you still don’t like this fact. You forgive yourself and others and, perhaps for the first time, may feel a sense of peace about the loss. You may still feel sad, but you have stopped trying to fight reality. You may be able to clean out the room of the person who died or participate again in some of the activities you enjoyed together. At this stage, people often thin about trying to find an enduring way to pay tribute to the life of someone who has died.

Not everyone goes through all of the stages of grief, or experiences them in the same order. You may also go through a stage more than once. You may think you have moved beyond depression, but you may feel sad again on a holiday or an anniversary. Or, you may get angry when you have to handle alone the everyday difficulties that you used to share. Experiences like these are normal, and you don’t have to struggle with them alone. If you feel overwhelmed or very sad for much longer than you expected to or if you continue to have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying life, you may want to talk with a therapist or chaplain.

Grief counseling or a grief support group can guide you through the process of healing and provide ideas on handling your special challenges.