Over the past year, we’ve had an unusual, unprecedented number of situations for which to grieve. Lost loved ones to Covid-19 or illnesses exacerbated by it, lost jobs and wages, broken or estranged relationships, as well as the changes in our daily lives at home, at work, at school and at worship. Grief has been complicated by the fact that many people have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones, or be with them at the time of their death due to visitation restrictions. Add in the social and political climate and you have the perfect storm.
In general, grief has been defined as stages. An individual would move from Stage 1, Denial to Stage 2, Anger and then on to Stage 3, 4, so on and so forth until the final stage of Acceptance is reached. Yet, we know grief is not so linear. It is a “process.”
Perhaps a more realistic way to think of grief is in waves, like the waves of an ocean. Waves of emotions may rise from one day, or even one moment, to the next. It is ongoing process, not a one-time rogue wave that crashes into your life and departs.
Denial, anger, bargaining and depression are common emotions experienced during the grieving process. Others include shock, numbness, fear, panic, guilt, loneliness, emotional outbursts, searching and isolation. These feelings may be random and occur over and over. Just when you think you’re “over” one feeling, you may experience it again later on. Acceptance is more than a final stage to be reached, it is interwoven through each emotion.
While people may experience some of the same emotions, individuals grieve differently. Not everyone experiences all of the emotions listed, or the same emotions. Nor do people grieve for the same length of time. Your grief experience may be quite different from someone else’s, even when the cause of grief is the same. Children grieve too and in their own way.
There is a tremendous variability in people’s ability to cope with and adjust to a major loss, especially the death of someone close to them. One of the key factors is their assessment of their own ability to survive, in a practical or even literal sense, without the deceased.
The good news is that grieving is healing. It is a way for us to cope with the impact of a major loss. Negative emotions are not a bad thing. They are part of the process.
In the end, we can be better for it, as we tap into renewed strength, resources and relationships. It gives us hope and builds empathy for others who grieve. How can you help others who have suffered a loss and are grieving?
Be Present, helping them bear the emotional pain of their loss.
Be Aware of where they are at in the process, the emotions they are experiencing.
Be Attentive and listen to them as they process their thoughts and feelings about the loss. If it’s a person who passed, their relationship with that person and their ability to survive without them.
Be Empathetic and validate their full range of emotional expressions.
Be a friend.