Dying is a wild night and a new road. Emily Dickinson
We are never prepared for the death of a person
we love. Grief is the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual pain we feel when a person close to us dies. It hurts
to lose a loved one and grief is a normal, human reaction because of our love for that person.
This is a very
difficult time for us. Sometimes the grief is more difficult because the death is sudden. It can feel complicated because
of unresolved conflict, anger, or negative history with the person who has died. Grief can also be more complicated if we
undergo several losses or changes within a short period of time.
The premature death of a young person causes
indescribable pain. Even when the death of someone special is anticipated, the loss is still a shock to our whole being. It
is common to feel overwhelmed and fragile, with thoughts and feelings that do not make sense.
Most of us are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of death and dying--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance--but
grief does not follow such a tidy set of rules. Grief reactions can overlap, repeat and take varying lengths of time because
grief is messy.
Scholars have studied the process of grief, but grief is not limited to a certain set of reactions.
With grief, all ranges of human emotion are possible because grief is individual and no two people grieve the same way. Grief
is painful, takes considerable amounts of time and drains us of our energy, but despite what the grief experts tell us, there
is not a correct way to grieve!
Sometimes you'll read about grievers "recovering" from grief.
This term is damaging because it implies that grief is an illness that must be cured. It also suggests a return to the way
things were before the death. Grief is not an illness or condition from which we recover. It is not one thing, but a process
of feelings and physical conditions.
don't recover from grief, instead we reconcile ourselves (adjust) to the loss. In other words, we learn
to live with the loss and are changed by the experience. We cannot judge how much grief is enough grief because it takes as
long as it takes to reach reconciliation.
Grieving never completely ends, but with time, we do feel better and learn go on
with our lives. Even if we reconcile ourselves to the loss, we may have periodic bursts of grief. It is important to remember that
the process of grief leads to healing while destructive grief causes even more suffering.
The following are some
of the normal grief reactions we may, or may not, experience:
Early reactions: Initial shock, disbelief,
denial, emotional numbness, guilt, and anger
Acute grief: Memory loss, insomnia, extreme fatigue, abrupt mood changes, poor judgement,
inability to concentrate, bouts of crying, headaches, stomach cramping, chest pain, difficulty breathing,
panic, appetite changes with resultant weight loss or weight gain, lethargy, reduced
work capacity, feelings of hearing or seeing the deceased. For another take on visitation, click Soulful Signs.
Leveling-off period: Sadness with nostalgia; more pleasant
memories of the loved one; thinking of, and finding meaning in, the deceased person's life, rather than concentrating on the
circumstances of the death; willingness to adapt to the change caused by the loss and make plans for the future without the
Note: If you are having troublesome symptoms, please
consult a physician to rule out illness.
Different Perspective on Grief:
Grief writers have attempted to identify specific aspects of the
grieving process. J. William Worden writes about the Four Tasks of Mourning. Therese Rando
takes another approach with the Six R's of Grief. Alan Wolfelt offers a contrast with the Ten Touchstones for
So which theory is correct? The
answer is all of them and none of them. While the descriptions vary in concept, they share the belief that grief is not static
because it changes with time. I believe that grief is deeply personal and each one of us has to find individual ways of coping
with the death of a loved one. There are no cookbook solutions, including the information on this web site.
For a different perspective on grief, read The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss by Ruth Davis Konigsberg. She writes on page 16, "Our grief culture maintains that grief is unique, then offers
a uniform set of instructions [on how to grieve]." From the back cover: "With this book, I hope to offer you a means
of escape from our habitual ways of thinking about grief."
work is thought provoking and well researched. Click A Change of Heart for my review of the book.
to next page: After the Shock