Bereavement refers to the period of mourning and grief following the death of a beloved person. Mourning is the word that is used to describe the public rituals or symbols of bereavement, such as holding funeral services, wearing black clothing, closing a place of business temporarily, or lowering a flag to half mast. Grief refers to one’s personal experience of loss; it includes physical symptoms as well as emotional and spiritual reactions to the loss. While public expressions of mourning are usually time-limited, grief is a process that takes most people several months or years to work through.
Bereavement is a highly individual as well as a complex experience. It is increasingly recognized that no two people respond the same way to the losses associated with the death of a loved one. People’s reactions to a death are influenced by such factors as ethnic or religious traditions; personal beliefs about life after death; the type of relationship ended by death (relative, friend, colleague, etc.); the cause of death; the person’s age at death; whether the death was sudden or expected; and many others. In addition, the death of a loved one inevitably confronts adults (and older adolescents) with the fact that they too will die. As a result of this variety and emotional complexity, most doctors and other counselors advise people to trust their own feelings about bereavement, and grieve in the way that seems most helpful to them.
Grieving is an act of love. The 7 stages of grief begin when someone or something you love is lost, and the stronger the love the greater the grief. The act of going through the grief process honors you and the significance of your loss.
The longer you live the more loss you experience. In order to grieve in healthy ways, you need to understand the 7 stages of grief and how they relate to different emotions.
The Seven Stages of Grief are as follows:
Shock -This is the body/mind’s way of saving you from the devastating pain of the loss, at least initially. It is a blessing at best, but at worst can become a long-term numbness to feelings that resembles a sort of living death. It will pass naturally as long as the other stages of grief are honored.
Denial -This is your mind’s attempt to protect you from the reality of the loss. You may lie to yourself and think about the person as if they were still alive. A certain period of denial is normal but if prolonged, it can keep you stuck and prevent resolution. There are many forms of denial, as varied as people are different from each other.
Anger -When you lose someone you love, it is natural to be angry for a period of time. You may be angry with the person for leaving you, angry with yourself for what you did not do to save them or angry with God for taking them away. You may just be angry at the unfairness and injustice of life.
Guilt-There seems to be a human tendency to blame yourself when something happens to a loved one. In loving someone, you automatically take some degree of responsibility for her or his welfare. It is only natural to question yourself for a period of time after your loved ones die. This is a normal part of the grief stages, but it is extremely important that you move through it and don’t get stuck in this stage. Use these healthy grieving techniques to help you through this stage.
Pain and Sorrow-These feelings often exist throughout all 7 stages of grief, and are the core feelings of grief. In the early stages, however, you are often distracted from your sorrow by denial, anger, guilt and the resulting confusion. Fear can also be a tremendous barrier to the experience of sorrow, triggering all of the defense mechanisms. To truly face and experience the pain and sorrow is necessary and healthy however, and it moves you forward through the stages of grief. Working with love is the key for moving through this phase, because only love has the power to move us to the depths of our being where the greatest loss is registered.
Release and Resolution-This stage of grief process is accompanied by a sense of acceptance of the reality of the loss, a sense of letting go. There may also be a degree of forgiveness that occurs in this phase. The denial, guilt and anger stages are over, and the pain and sorrow is not as intense as it was before. Many people ask, “How long does it take?” The answer is different according to the severity of the loss and the health of the individual who is grieving. Grieving moves in cycles, and it may seem as if we are through for a substantial period of time. A birthday, anniversary or another loss can bring back many of the same feelings that were there when our loved one died. Any loss or low emotional period can bring back the feelings of loss, particularly if you have not reached resolution. When the release finally occurs, your entire body will feel it. Many people go through emotional release in their grieving and that it is as much a physical, non-verbal process as it is verbal and conscious.
Return to the Willingness to Love-This is the final stage of the grieving process. Healing has occurred, and the grieving person is able to laugh again and to get involved in life. Fear can slow you down or even stop you at this point, because new love means the risk of new loss. By honoring and completing all seven stages of the grief process, however, you will overcome your fear and move forward. This occurs through an appreciation for yourself and the life you are left to live. Nurturing your inner child is an excellent tool to use to help you through all seven stages of grief process, and particularly as you move back out “into the world” after a period of grieving. Part of the return to love also includes remembering the love you felt for the one you lost. The love lives on and the anger, guilt, pain and sorrow fade away.
This final step in the seven stages of grief process is ultimately a spiritual one. It is a fact that all of us on this planet will die. You need to have some way of living, laughing and loving with this reality. That’s where spirituality comes in. True security cannot be found in another person or in any external circumstances. You have to turn within, to your own concept of the infinite, to ultimately find peace and security in a life that is only temporary in its tangible form.
The greater the love you feel for someone or the greater the emotional investment in a given situation, the greater the sense of loss you feel when death, transition or tragedy occurs. The depth of grief process you experience is directly proportional to the depth of love experienced, invested or needed. Grieving is actually an aspect of love, and healthy grieving is an act of love and remembering love. The reason that anger, shock and denial interrupt and in some cases stop the grief process is because they take you away from love. That is what they are designed to do as protective mechanisms.
Here’s the real clincher about love and the stages of grief–remembering, writing about and talking about love takes you directly into the pain. As this happens however, all of the unconscious defense mechanisms designed to protect you from pain are activated. This is where the anger, shock and denial come in. The instinctual reaction of avoiding pain is natural. If you allow this to dominate however, you will never complete a grieving process. We must be conscious of our instincts, and act according to our wisdom.
Ultimately it is only a focus on love that gives you the strength and depth of emotion necessary for moving into your pain, releasing your sorrow and completing the 7 stages of grief.
What most people need after a significant loss is the support of caring loved ones, family and friends. It helps to know what resources are available in the community so individuals can take advantage of needed services when they are ready. For information about hospice bereavement services,
contact our Bereavement Coordinator at 706-507-5445.