Navigating the stages of grief

Navigating the stages of grief:  how to cope with the loss of a loved one.  Whether it is expected or unexpected, the loss of a loved one can take a devastating toll on your physical and mental health. A multifaceted process, grief is our natural response to loss, that can span across months, even years.  And reveal as much about the lost one as about ourselves.

Unfortunately, considering that grief can be the result of an emotional trauma.  Not many people are equipped to cope with it and find themselves caught in a self-destructive process.  That can lead to unhealthy addictive habits, unhelpful coping strategies or compulsive behaviours.

Grieving is a deeply personal process that can mix both positive and negative emotions and it’s important to allow yourself the time to heal in your own rhythm and rebuild your life slowly.

The stages of grief are not the same for everyone

Most people are familiar with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, psychologists say that these classifications are only a minimal representation of what goes through a person’s mind during the grieving process.

The grief process does not manifest the same for everyone.  And you should not expect your feelings to follow this set track from denial to acceptance. You may not experience them in this exact order.  One of them can last for just a few days while another might take you a couple of months to overcome.

You may feel that you’re not affected by losing a loved one at first, but experience grief later. Before you find some acceptance of what has happened to you, you will experience a whirlwind of emotions and it’s important to realize that they are all normal.

If you lost a family member and there are more relatives coping with the loss, do not expect the mourning process to be the same for everyone. Some are more at ease displaying their grief and be very open about it. Others prefer to keep things to themselves and don’t even cry. Don’t judge yourself or others based on the grief process and don’t try to fit a certain pattern. In the end, life finds a way and you will begin to heal.  Even if at the moment you are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Grieving in front of the kids

When you have kids, you might feel that you are not allowed to grieve or display your feelings.  For fear that the children will feel scared or they won’t understand what’s going on. Without a doubt, grieving when raising a child can be a true parenting challenge, but you shouldn’t attempt to hide the loss.

On the one hand, the child can find out about it by accident at school or from other relatives.  And being overprotective will not help them cope with loss later on. On the other hand, children can provide more emotional support than adults sometimes.

Explain to them that a person you care about has passed away.  And that it’s normal to express your sadness in a healthy way. Don’t bury your grief and bottle up your feelings.  Because this will instil in your kids the idea that grief is something to be afraid of. Instead, let them know that showing your emotions is a part of the process.  And that they can continue to play and enjoy themselves through it.

Therapy, closure and healthy grieving

Whether you are coping with intense grief or feel that you don’t have someone to talk to.  Seeking grief counselling can help you cope with your feelings in a healthy way, accept them and find a way to consolidate your loss. Although it’s often tempting to look for distractions, bury yourself in work or focus on family life to avoid grieving.  Psychologists say that this survival mechanism is not beneficial for your mental health in the long run because it prevents you from getting closure and reaching a resolution.

Don’t believe that taking medication is the only approach. Although some meds can be useful to an extent when struggling with anxiety or severe depression.  The solution has to come from you. You have to work through your feelings.  Understand what the person you lost meant for you when they were alive and how their passing will affect you.

In the case of an unexpected loss, such as when a loved one passed away from an accident or after a sudden illness.  Coping with loss can be more difficult because you might feel like you have so much more to say. You may feel guilty or, on the contrary, you might feel angry at the loved one for leaving you too soon. In such cases, going to bereavement counselling can help.  By helping you to express those unsaid things that are keeping you from healing and finding a way to live again.

Contrary to what many believe closure doesn’t mean forgetting about your loved one.  Or about getting back to the same mental state you had before the loss occurred. It means finding a way to consolidate the loss.  Letting reality sink in and continuing to live your life in their honour.

Last, but not least, do not neglect your wellbeing during the grieving process. Remember to eat well, meditate, work out and find time for your hobbies. Practice self-care when you can and find time for the things that make you feel good without any guilt. In the end, it’s better to accept that grieving is a way of honouring the person who passed away.  And seeking help for it is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.