Grief is a multifaceted response to loss to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. Bereavement refers to the loss and grief is the reaction to loss.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is gone. Grief is also a reaction to any loss. The loss of a job, a relationship, a home, a comfortable shirt, a pet, ill health all can create grief. Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.
The five signs of grief are:
1. Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us angrier.
The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target. Health professionals deal with death and dying every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their patients or to those who grieve for them.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
If only we had sought medical attention sooner… ?
If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…?
If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…?
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance.
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny us the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
Some of the ways of dealing with grief:
Nomads: Nomads have not yet resolved their grief and do not seem to understand the loss that has affected their lives.
Memorialists: This identity is committed to preserving the memory of the loved one that they have lost.
Normalizers: This identity is committed to re-creating a sense of family and community.
Activists: This identity focuses on helping other people who are dealing with the same disease or with the same issues that caused their loved one's death.
Seekers: This identity will adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives.
We all die. We all lose each other and we grieve. In our own individual ways we grieve. There are no instructions for emotions.
A personal reflection:
My grandfather died and I didn’t even know him. A friend of mine died in a pool while we were swimming together. The first funeral and he was not coming back out to play. My father died as he was getting scared of retiring and sudden illness. There was no time to grieve for the other problems of deciding coffins and clothing to dress him up in and a strong mom who broke down. When my mother died, and I was told she was dying, I didn’t attend her bedside. Instead I sat in the forest and wondered why I didn’t feel grief? She was my mother?
When my wife died it was sudden and over quickly. There was shock and tension and the realization that life had just changed. There is the inevitable work to go through clothing and papers and prized possessions passing some to family and friends and some to charities and some to the trash for it is over. This life is done.
After the obvious, there was the mental realization that was a fascinating process. First was to put in my mind a picture of the great beyond or at least a fantasy to calm me rather than think of her being carved up and put into jars. Second was the realization of my life, from waking up to going to bed would all be different from now on.
Through the years the tears don’t come up when a beer commercial of a dog comes on or a certain song, but it is still there. They call it grief and we all do it differently.