Recognizing and acknowledging grief
Grief is inevitable and it is messy. We can feel at times like we are drowning in our sorrows. A loss, or multiple losses, in tight-knit communities can mean that many are suffering. It also means that many can be supports.
Grief is not an illness, nor a disorder – it is a natural and necessary (though unwelcome) component of relationships. When a loss is experienced, it may be helpful to understand some of the mechanisms of grief.
In terms of research around the process of grieving, there are several models - three most prevalent. Kublerross developed the “Five Stage Model of Grieving” in the late 1960s, Worden developed a model that illustrated another similar model that condensed the stages into “Four Tasks of Mourning” and Stroebe and Schut developed a dual process model of grief. The models are useful and often used to help people negotiate the grief journey.
The key message is this - we are all different and the grief process is rarely linear in nature. It is often described as an ebb-and-flow-like wave or like a complicated knot.
After a loss, we go through high and low periods, varying intensities of emotions and unpredictable patterns. We may re-visit various “stages” of grief as time goes on. This is not an indication of regression, but a normal and expected reaction to deep loss. Some people may not experience all of the “typical” stages of grief. This does not mean that they are missing out or that they are not progressing as they should. They simply may not need to visit all stages of the process to find their way.
In the early stages of grief, immediately after a loss there is often disbelief, denial or an inability to accept that a death has occurred. You’ll often hear people say “I just can’t believe it” or “It doesn’t seem real”. Sometimes there is a tendency for people to turn inwards at this stage - if they don’t go and do what they typically go and do, then they don’t need to recognize that life has changed. People often “go through the motions” but lose a sense of time and perhaps even feel in a fog.
There is sometimes a stage of blame - blaming the medical community, God or a higher power, one’s self, or the person who has died. At this point, we may hear things like “If only he had taken better care of himself” or “The doctors should have given her x,y, z and didn’t.”
Anger follows closely on the heels – anger towards the system, the person, one’s self or even the unfairness of life and death. Sometimes anger is generalized and a person experiences a short fuse with anyone and anything they face as a part of their daily life. Again, this is a part of the grief journey.
Sadness of course is a part of the grieving process, with a deep sense of loss and sorrow for someone who was significant and loved.
Gradually, eventually, people will move towards acceptance. This “final” stage of the grieving process happens when the griever begins to make plans. Although life is now different, it remains fulfilling. People find a way to re-align themselves after a loss, and regain a sense of who they are. Different, but not empty.
The million dollar question is always “How do I get through this?”. There is no quick fix, no one right thing to say or do or think. Regardless of the model of grief management, experts agree that self-care and strong social supports are the key contributors to alleviating some of the most challenging aspects of loss. Ensuring that people who have experienced loss are resting, eating and getting some form of exercise helps their bodies support their minds and hearts as they grieve.
Having a space and place to talk about loss, feelings, worries and hopes is important for someone who has experienced loss. Being that listener for someone who has experienced a loss is a critically important role. Listening means just that - not talking, or feeling like you should be offering advice, but listening to what the mourner is feeling and allowing them to speak their feelings. By listening, you are helping the grieving person move along their grief journey. That is exactly how the process is negotiated - through dialogue and expression of thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes the grieving process becomes complicated, meaning there are other factors that make the process more difficult and potentially require professional intervention. Predisposition to or preexisting mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety) can complicate the grief process as can numerous losses over a short period of time, or a traumatic loss. If your feelings become overwhelming at any time, i.e., they are worsening over a period of time and you feel unable to manage on your own, always make an appointment with your family doctor or call the Emergency Crisis Services through the Cape Breton Health Authority at 902-5677767.