Grief Beyond Death
Grief is a complex myriad of emotions that encompass what loss feels like. During the pandemic especially many of us have had to mourn the loss of a loved one or a friend. Grief is an emotion that regardless of age or stage of life it is painful. Grieving a loss is a complex process and can be difficult to navigate emotionally. It is typically seen as a reaction to death, but it really can occur anytime our reality is not what we wanted, hoped for, or expected (Stanaway, 2020).
There are five stages of grief that help conceptualize what this emotion looks like (Stanaway,2020):
Denial can look like avoidance, craft nation, forgetting, easily distracted, mindless behaviors, keeping busy all the time, and thinking or saying “I’m fine” or “this is fine”. It can also feel like shock, numbness, confusion, and even shutting down.
Anger can look like pessimism, cynicism, sarcasm, irritability, being aggressive or passive aggressive, getting into arguments or physical fights, and increased alcohol or drug use. Anger can feel like frustration, impatience, resentment, embarrassment, rage, and feeling out of control.
Bargaining can cause someone to ruminate on the future or past, overthink, worry, compare self to others, predicting the future and assuming the worst, perfectionism, thinking or saying “I should have” or “if only”, and judgment towards self and others. Emotions associated with bargaining can be guilt, shame, blame, fear, anxiety, and insecurity.
Depression can appear as sleep and appetite changes, reduced energy, reduced social interest, reduced motivation, crying, increased alcohol or drug use. You may feel sadness, despair, helplessness, hopelessness, disappointment, and overwhelmed.
Acceptance is Mindful behaviors, engaging with reality as it is, reminding yourself that this is how it is right now, being present in the moment, being vulnerable and tolerating emotions, assertive non-defensive and honest communication, adapting, coping, and responding skillfully. Acceptance can feel like or include validation, courage, good enough, self-compassion, pride, and wisdom.
“These stages are our attempts to process change and protect ourselves while we adapt to a new reality”(Stanaway, 2020). Overall if we’re experiencing grief and we are not in the stage of acceptance then there is a part of us that is fighting against reality or avoiding what is happening. We utilize negative coping skills such as isolation or using drugs or alcohol to disconnect from these uncomfortable feelings of our reality. But acceptance doesn’t mean not experiencing distress, it means being aware of these negative coping skills that you may want to do or find yourself doing and reminding yourself that it’s OK to have these emotions and not judge yourself for having them. Even though these stages are numbered it’s rare to move through them in order. It’s normal to weave in and out of different stages of grief maybe even a couple different times. It is also possible that everyone may not experience all 5 stages of grief.
The process of grieving looks different for everyone and there is no one way or correct way to grieve. There is not a timeline in which it should occur either. Grieving is an individualistic process that is painful and can require a lot of self-awareness and it can open up a door to emotional growth. You’re in a season where you’re assimilating to your new reality without that person that you’re missing or without that partner who you broke up with or without the carefree nature that you had before the financial stressors of the pandemic or the person you were when you started school or the bad grade on that final or the losses we’ve seen due to civil unrest and social injustice. These examples just scratch the surface of what types of things in our lives can give us an opportunity or a need to grieve. You may be grieving the loss of normalcy that we’ve experienced since the pandemic. Just because someone or something hasn’t died doesn’t mean that there still isn’t something to grieve.
There’s a certain way that I like to conceptualize grieving which can help put it in perspective and give us hope for our healing process. Yes, grief is something that is just as painful no matter what age or stage of life you’re in, death always hurts. Imagine your grief as this ball inside you it’s heavy and large right now and it’s taking up so much space. It feels so heavy and cumbersome to hold and you’re not quite sure where to put it. Sometimes it feels like it’s crushing you and sometimes you can move it just enough out of the way to let some light in. The grief doesn’t necessarily shrink in size overtime and the feelings don’t necessarily change, you may always miss that person you lost to an illness or the person you lost to a failed relationship or marriage, but eventually you grow around your grief and this big ball that was taking up so much space isn’t so big anymore. It doesn’t block the light, it’s not uncomfortable and cumbersome to hold, and it’s something that isn’t all consuming anymore. Progress isn’t linear just like the grieving process, but if you’re going through something that feels like this right now and it is feeling too heavy to hold alone, reach out to a friend or a professional for help and support.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a loss of any kind and want support or someone to talk to; please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.