Grief and loss are a common and natural part of our lives, yet we often feel ill-equipped and alone when we are traveling through our grief. While grief is often thought of in instances of death, we can also grieve for additional reasons like the loss of a job, divorce, miscarriage, or loss of a friendship. Understanding the grieving process is an important step in allowing ourselves and those experiencing grief, the space and time needed to heal.
CMC Staff Chaplain, Pat Douglass, reminds us of the five stages of grief:
- Denial– Essentially, pretending the loss isn’t happening. Often, this stage allows us the ability to slowly absorb our new reality. This defense mechanism can present differently in people. Often, going about a daily routine can allow a person to deny the reality they are in.
- Anger– As you move away from the denial stage, you will be confronted with strong emotions you may have been initially suppressing. Anger can often be a therapeutic outlet for our intense emotions. If we are focused on our anger, bitterness, resentment, or contempt, we are less likely to feel the more painful sadness just below the surface.
- Bargaining– Grief can cause us to feel helpless in our situation. In the bargaining stage, you may find yourself going down the “What if” path. If you are a religious person, you may be praying for deals or promises. “If I do this, will you ease my pain?”
- Depression– This is often the longest stage and without work, it can be a place we remain for longer than necessary. You may feel sad, foggy, and overwhelmed. If you feel “Stuck” in this stage, speaking to your primary care provider or a mental health provider can help get you through in a more manageable way.
- Acceptance – In this stage, you start to gain clarity and understanding that your loved one or loss is in fact, a new reality. You begin to accept it as fact and look for ways to acknowledge what has happened while living more clearly in the present and looking towards the future.
When you are walking the path of grief, remind yourself of these things:
- Think of yourself as a beloved friend and treat yourself gently
- Remember the lack of focus you feel is normal and temporary
- Use sticky notes liberally Ask close friends and loved ones for help–even if you normally don’t
Watching someone we care about experience grief can cause feelings of helplessness. Consider these ideas to help someone you care about progress through their grief:
- Take them their favorite food that they would never refuse
- Be compassionate
- Lower your expectations that their pre-loss activities will resume soon. Offer leeway.
- Volunteer to run some of their errands.
While most of us are familiar with the emotional toll grief may take on us, many may not realize that the grieving process can cause physical symptoms as well. “These symptoms may manifest as headaches, abdominal pain, or other GI symptoms”, states Kalah Ainsworth, DO of CMC Primary Care-Myrtle Trace. “Disruption of sleep and even insomnia are often common during this process as well. A change in appetite can also lead to weight loss or weight gain, which can cause additional issues depending on the onset and severity” stated Dr. Ainsworth. Dr. David Johnson of CMC Primary Care-Little River shares “Grief can magnify the symptoms of pre-existing conditions we already have. So, if we already have joint problems from arthritis, it can make those symptoms more intense or more frequent.” For more on the physical symptoms of grief, watch this short video.
So, what can we do to continue to care for our mental and physical well-being while being caught up in our grief? Dr. Johnson shares that we mustn’t neglect ourselves during this process. For more on how to continue to care for yourself while you grieve, click here.
Stay tuned for our support group “Aging Vibrantly and Grief”, led by Chaplain Pat, to begin later this year. Members of this group can expect topics like grief 101, the benefits of staying present, recovering your child-like self, deepening your true self, caring for your mind, body, spirit, and more. Follow our Facebook page for updates!