Post No.: 0557
The purported 5 states of grief are denial/isolation, anger, bargaining/regret, depression and acceptance – but this is only a rough guide and isn’t the same for everybody. Not everyone goes through these steps – some skip some stages, it certainly takes a hugely variable time to pass through these stages for different people, and sometimes it’s not linear either (e.g. falling back a stage before moving forwards again). Acceptance is the end goal though, thus is arguably the most important step. Finding meaning is also beneficial, such as that a loss has taught us something important to take forwards.
You can’t directly force someone to rush through the process – they’ll go through it at their own pace. Some like to see lots of photographs of their lost loved one whilst others don’t during this time. The intensity and duration of grief will be proportional to how close someone felt with the person they miss. The loss of a child is typically more affecting. One’s religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs will play a role too. It takes time for a bereaving family to regain their balance on a practical and psychological level after a loss.
It isn’t just about things like the loss of a loved one, a home or a limb, or about things like the rejection from a friendship, a love interest or a job application – people who have their strong worldviews debunked can go roughly through these postulated states of grief too. They may experience denial then anger because no one likes to believe they’ve been a fool for believing so fervently and publicly in falsehoods. Whether they go through towards acceptance or not though will depend highly upon what their echo chambers say or if they personally leave those echo chambers.
Grief can indirectly lead to death – research has shown that it can cause stress cardiomyopathy (also called ‘broken heart syndrome’), heart attacks in those who already aren’t in the best of health, harmful levels of inflammation, as well as suicide.
The lasting pain of loss or grief might therefore mean that it’s overall not ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’? It’s true that those who are widowed or currently divorced after a marriage on average feel less happy than those who’ve always been single (albeit the difference is small and there’s a huge variance between different individuals). But then again, it could be analogously like a person who used to own a superyacht before it got destroyed arguing that someone who’s never owned one before is luckier because they’ve never ever lost a superyacht(!)
So perhaps it’s not about totally forgoing love in your life but about having broad, supportive networks of loved ones (family, friends, colleagues) rather than relying on just one other person too much, because if that one person goes then it won’t feel like your entire world has collapsed.
It has been proposed that if grieving after bereavement continues for a long time without progress, it should be regarded as a distinct mental health condition – perhaps as ‘complicated grief disorder’ or ‘prolonged grief disorder’. Here, one might blame oneself for someone’s death (even though others might say that one has nothing to be guilty of), feel lonely, wish to die to be with them, feel that life is now empty or meaningless without them, feel that a part of oneself has died with them, and overall struggle to accept the loss and move on. Getting the support of a bereavement counsellor should be considered in these cases. And the fact that these specific professions exist should tell everyone that they’re hardly the only ones to feel the way they do about grief.
Emotional support is so vital during the bereavement process – relatives, friends, support groups and mental health counsellors or therapists can all help here. Grieving together is much easier than trying to grieve alone. Support can be the key to a person’s recovery and acceptance of their loss.
So if you know of anyone who is suffering from grief then talk with and listen to them. It’s okay to use the word ‘died’ when talking with someone who’s bereaving. Ask how they’re feeling rather than make assumptions, accept that they feel that way, don’t try to minimise their loss because this may be taken as attempting to trivialise it, and don’t put pressure on them to ‘act strong’ by telling them they’re strong. Show that you care, be there, and offer your support – they might not want any specific help right then but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want you around.
If someone has taken their own life due to depression – those grieving from loved ones who’ve committed suicide must also be looked after too. They’ll likely be expressing a wide range of emotions from disbelief, guilt to anger, and may fall into depression themselves.
So grief is contagious in the sense that depression, divorce or detainment, for instance, doesn’t just affect those who attempt/commit suicide, split up or are in prison but also those around them too, especially any children involved. (This isn’t to say that divorce is always the worst option for the children because the relationship between the parents might be irrecoverably toxic or abusive. When two parents constantly argue with each other, it’s stressful for their children, for which stress can impact upon their sleep, concentration at school and therefore their development. Children do notice the arguments and the body language of their parents even if their parents are trying to hide their arguments from them. Children can often blame themselves for their parents’ split. They learn by example and may later enter bad relationships of their own for not understanding what a healthy and secure relationship really looks like, and/or they may copy the failure of their parents to handle and resolve conflicts productively (e.g. the shouting, stonewalling or violence). Of course, a happy and secure parental situation where the parents are able to handle their conflicts in adaptive ways is most preferable for a child, but a split or divorce is arguably better for them if the parents cannot find a way to live together without constant conflict.)
We used to believe that our level of grief after a traumatic event gradually diminishes over time, and many feel that time heals – but now it’s better understood that this grief stays more or less the same but we just gradually experience more other life events over time that swamp that traumatic event so that it becomes proportionally less prominent in our lives. Those who’ve experienced a major event in their past that caused them to grieve, but are okay in their lives now, probably recognise that they haven’t, and likely won’t ever, really forget about what happened or the intense sadness that the memory of it can evoke – it’s just that lots of other stuff in their lives have happened since. So, although it can be easier said than done – it really is about moving on, doing other things, seeing other people and building new chapters in your life. It’s about rejoining activities, (re)connecting with friends and others who are still available in your life and being mindfully present, whilst holding onto the happier memories of the lost loved one. Woof.
Acknowledge and accept your feelings – cry if you want to cry. Ask others for whatever you need, whether it’s a practical favour or just a listening ear – don’t think that you’re protecting your family and friends by keeping your feelings suppressed. Continue looking after your health – eat well, exercise, stick to a regular sleep routine, do some hobbies and leisure activities. Avoid alcohol and other non-prescribed drugs. Some, however, recommend avoiding making major life or lifestyle changes for at least the first year of bereavement if possible so that you’ll maintain roots and a sense of security.
Offer yourself some self-care and self-compassion (read Post No.: 0483). Forgive yourself and dissolve any regrets away. You could write a letter to the person who passed away, which says everything you wished you could say to them. If they were involved in a cause that was important to them then you might wish to take the baton from them, which will help you to continue to feel connected to them in a meaningful, purposeful, positive and productive way. Prepare for annual events that might bring on strong feelings (e.g. anniversaries, their birthday).
Although everyone’s grief journey is individual, understand that most people’s response to adversity is resilience rather than trauma. There are still positive emotions and feelings like hopefulness, kindness, bravery and gratitude that can help us to better cope with loss. Those who actively search for the positive emotions after a tragic event tend to be more resilient against depression, so look for activities that make you love, laugh, feel inspired, a sense of accomplishment and so forth.
So much is still good in your life, so recognise these and don’t lose them to what you’ve lost (e.g. don’t neglect those who are still alive). ‘Post-traumatic growth’ or ‘benefit finding’ is the positive psychological rise to a higher level of functioning that some people experience in the wake of an adversity or other challenge – it’s as if the trauma event activates a positive ‘life-changing’ shift in them. Perhaps it prompts them to do something they’ve been meaning to do for ages? Perhaps it sets their priorities in life straight? Perhaps it gives them a sense of acceptance and peace? It’s not a universal experience but if you can find the positives then it’ll help your resilience.
Nowadays, many people leave a digital legacy – their social media profiles and general online footprints that living people can still access. On the one paw, this record of the deceased can help the grieving process, but on another, it can disturb it if people go down a rabbit hole when checking out the deceased person’s social media history and delay the acceptance that they’re gone. Some videogame worlds can also be used in a similar way. (Also, from the point of view of the social media giants – all of these archives take up physical resources and therefore cost money to keep hence they’ve been thinking about what to do with this ever-increasing number of inactive accounts. Cemetery spaces also cannot keep growing in number for there is only a finite amount of land on the planet – we cannot practically continue dedicating plots of land to the dead.)
But do establish routines and rituals to keep the memories of lost loved ones alive. This might be of course visiting their grave, wearing their ring or cooking something they used to cook and eating it with the people you used to eat it with when the person was alive. Recognise that the person remains a relative or friend. Remember all of the good and happy memories with and about the loved one, and continue to talk about them with others.
A better way to reflect on someone’s legacy is to ask yourself some questions that make that person’s life count for something in how they positively impacted or still impact upon your life and/or the world. What did your loved one teach you? How has knowing them changed you for the better? How did their life and also their death make you behave differently? How can you commemorate that and keep that legacy alive?
Like exercises that can promote happiness in general – what works for each person will be individual. And these things won’t completely remove the pain but may help lessen it as you continue to live, laugh and love. Well after all, ‘what is grief if not love persevering?’ <3
Woof. If you’ve ever lost a loved one and want to share with us what happy things you do to remember them by with joy then please do via the Twitter comment button below if you’d like.