It is normal for a person to feel a sense of grief after a loved one has passed away, or some other major loss has occurred. Often a significant loss is followed by an influx of different emotions, possibly at a level never previously experienced. People who are grieving may have the thought that the sadness, anger or guilt will never go away. When experiencing these thoughts it is important to understand that feeling sad, hopeless, or any other emotion associated with loss, is a part of the grieving process. These feelings are completely normal, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve – some may cry, some may laugh, and some may feel anger.
Situations that may elicit grief include:
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of employment
- Loss of stability
- Death of a pet
- Loss of health
- Traumatic events
These events can cause distress to anyone, but often the more intense or severe the loss, the more grief it creates. Major changes in life, such as moving house, graduating or changing jobs, also have the potential to cause grief, as they may be associated with the permanent loss of a particular role, routine or situation.
According to well-known Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief that are experienced by most people who suffer a major loss. Knowledge of these stages can be useful for understanding and guiding a person through a major loss. The five stages are:
These stages begin with a degree of shock – the person may not initially be able to comprehend what happened and may therefore deny that the loss has really occurred. The person may then become angry about the loss, asking questions such as “Why is this happening?” or “Who is at fault?” These feelings of confusion are very normal. The person may then attempt to find solutions – they may turn to religion to try to bargain with God to bring the person back, or they may try to change what has happened somehow. A feeling of intense sadness or depression, in which the person feels hopeless about the future, follows this stage. The final stage, acceptance, involves being able to accept what has happened, and usually experiencing some level of contentment or peace.
>> Check out our grief tip sheet.
Though the traditional view is that these stages are experienced in a sequential fashion, it is becoming evident that people do not always experience them in this order, and may instead switch between stages or revert back to an earlier stage for various reasons.
Those who experience grief usually, over time, come to terms with what has happened and return to normal functioning. For those who are experiencing grief and loss, it is very helpful to surround yourself with loving and supportive people and discuss your thoughts and feelings openly. It is also important to look after yourself – try to establish manageable routines that involve sleep, eating regularly, exercising and engaging in some level of social activity.
If you live in the Canberra region and you are experiencing difficulties coping with grief and loss, you can contact Strategic Psychology to arrange to see a psychologist. We can assist you in identifying the issues that are contributing to maintaining your difficulties and recommend strategies that draw on your strengths and passions in order to achieve optimal social, emotional and occupational functioning.