Experiencing loss is a part of life.
The grief that follows weighs on our hearts for months, years, often a lifetime. Through the experience of grief, we often don’t know where to turn to start the healing journey.
When processing a loss, we often avoid or minimize our emotions. This serves to protect ourselves from the pain, burying it where it can’t hurt us. One of the first steps towards healing is allowing ourselves to feel that pain, even though it can be uncomfortable.
If we don’t acknowledge the pain, we can’t learn from it.
Phases of Grief
The phases of grief and the process of healing do not progress from one stage to the next in a logical way. We may experience any of the emotions below in any order.
Denial, Numbness, and Shock
Numbness is a normal reaction to an immediate loss and should not be confused with “lack of caring”. This serves to protect us from experiencing the intensity of the loss. Denial and shock will diminish as we slowly acknowledge the disbelief of this loss and accompanying feelings.
At times, we may think about what could have been done to prevent the loss. We can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better and the “what ifs?”. This reaction can provide insight into the impact of the loss, however, if not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may hinder healing.
After recognizing the true extent of the loss, we may experience depressive symptoms. Sleep and appetite changes, lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells are typical. Feelings of loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity can also surface during this phase, contributing to this reactive depression. For many of us, this phase must be experienced to regain control of our lives.
This reaction usually occurs when we feel helpless and powerless. Anger may stem from feeling abandoned. Feelings of resentment may occur toward a higher power or toward life in general for the injustice of this loss. After we acknowledge the anger, guilt may surface because we expressed these negative feelings.
Time allows us the opportunity to resolve the range of feelings that surface. We may return to some of the earlier feelings throughout our lifetime. There is no timeline or limit to the grieving process.
Each person should define their own healing process because everyone grieves differently.
What can I do to support the grieving process?
Allow yourself time to experience thoughts and feelings openly. Acknowledge and accept all emotions, both positive and negative. There are no wrong feelings. One day we might be laughing about the good times, remembering the person fondly. The next we might be angry at them for leaving us. Give yourself grace with the rollercoaster of emotions - it’s normal. Once we own these feelings, we can gain power over them. Express feelings openly and let yourself cry.
Use a journal to document the healing process. Writing about your feelings can serve as a safe space to express your emotions. Journaling can help us explore grief and all the emotions attached to the loss. It can help us find meaning within ourselves and the situation. This reconnects the mind to the heart.
Confide in a trusted individual. When we tell the story of loss, it takes weight off of our shoulders. It can help relieve the stress we have been keeping to ourselves and make us feel less alone. Talking about the loss can help us understand ourselves better and where the range of our feelings is coming from. Find a supportive person in your life, either a loved one or a mental health professional, to help in the journey of healing.
You are not alone in your grief. Hope is possible.
North Range Behavioral Health can help you, your loved ones, and our community navigate grief and loss.
Call 970.347.2120 or visit NorthRange.org to learn more about counseling services.