I thought about writing on the topic of grief this afternoon before I learned the news of the most recent school shooting. Hearing of the news of the shooting in Florida today reminds us that so many people are grieving every day. It's horrifying to hear of such news, and the tragedy reminds us that each day we live is a sweet blessing. Our hearts break for those affected by the senseless violence. Some of us grieve sudden and unexpected losses, similar to the one in the news today in Florida, and others grieve over time as loved ones suffer from a terminal illness or fragility from old age.
Identifiable stages of grief include; denial, anger, deep sadness or depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Grievers may go through all of the phases or some of them, not necessarily in linear order. It is possible to feel both anger and deep sadness at the same time, or to go through bargaining and denial simultaneously.
Acceptance can seem that it is a long time coming. I sometimes hear clients comment that they feel that friends and family rush them through the grief process. When they are suffering for prolonged periods of time, they get the sense that people feel they should have moved on already. This can lead to a deepened sense of loneliness which can contribute to feelings of depression. Our rush-rush society doesn't offer a good model for coping with loss. We are expected to move on and get back to our usual routine. Please know that it is okay to grieve for as long as you need to. Often grief lingers a quite a while after the loss.
The Stages of Grief:
Denial- It is often difficult to believe that the loss really occurred. A feeling of numbness can accompany feelings of shock and disbelief. A sense that the news isn't true, is common. This can be protective as the full emotional impact of the news is often too difficult to take in all at once.
Anger- Depending on the way the loss occurred, the level of anger can vary. Anger can be felt toward God, toward a perpetrator, toward doctors, toward your loved one, or toward the situation in general. The feelings of anger can be intense and overwhelming. Working through anger feelings is important in order to heal from the pain. Recognizing that it is okay to feel angry for a while is important. However, eventually forgiveness needs to occur in order for the anger to dissipate.
Bargaining- Feeling lost at sea from the deepfelt loss, a need to search for answers arises. Questions come up such as, "Why did this happen?" Many, "what if's" or, "if only's" can flood the mind. It can feel like an attempt to find missing puzzle pieces in effort to resolve the grief or make the pain go away. Accepting that the loss doesn't make sense can help grievers move forward.
Depression/Deep Sadness- Missing the person that was lost leads to feelings of profound sadness. Life can feel overwhelming which leads to withdrawal from usual activities. It can feel difficult to be around people or situations that bring up memories of the person. A deep longing for that individual to be there with you can feel overwhelming. Allowing yourself to weep and to feel the sadness is important for the healing process. Sometimes unresolved grief manifests as lingering depression. Allow yourself to process the pain rather than suppress it or avoid the feelings of loss.
Acceptance- As the final stage of grief, acceptance can help the griever come to terms with the loss. The loss can continue to feel profound, however, the griever is able to function again and can think of the person fondly without feeling consumed with grief. A sense of coming to terms with the loss and finding meaning in life again, is part of the healing process.
Allowing yourself the time you need to grieve is important. Find ways to honor the person you lost and work through each stage with a sense of determination to heal and resolve the loss in a meaningful way. You will always cherish the person lost. There will be waves of sadness that can hit like a tsunami. To love and be connected to others is to know great pain when they are removed from this life whether prematurely or after a full life. You will get through this even though it is immensely difficult.
"But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." Psalm 10:14
"Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief." Psalm 31:9
"May your unfailing love be my comfort." Psalm 119:76a