About Grief and Loss.
Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of someone we care about but it is also a natural reaction to the loss of anything we truly value. Everyone knows people will grieve the loss of a loved one but people can also grieve the loss of a pet, a job, a house and their health.
It is not uncommon for people to grieve the loss of a relationship or a marriage even when they no longer love the person they were with. The grief these losses can cause may be as distressing and acute as the grief that occurs when the loss is due to a death.
Grief has been said to have five stages but it is known that people can move through these stages in any order and can take days, weeks, months or years to reach the final stage. Some people can get stuck in one of these stages and never move to the final stage whilst others may cycle in and out of the different stages over and over again.
Grief is, therefore, as individual as the person who is experiencing it. It will take as long as that person needs to run its course. It should not be rushed or avoided. Any attempt to do so will result in unresolved grief. Unresolved grief can play havoc with your life and cause all sorts of problems ranging from excessive reactions to things that trigger the grief again to an inability to genuinely love someone for fear of losing them.
The Five Stages Of Grief.
The first stage of grief is often denial. In this stage people know what has happened but they are not able, or are not willing, to believe the loss has occurred. During this stage the person may believe they can hear, see or feel the presence of the lost loved one. They may think they saw the person, even if they have died, on a bus passing by or they may run to catch up with someone on the street because they think it is their dead loved one.
The most well known example of this phenomenon is the belief of Elvis Presley fans that Elvis did not die but faked his own death and is still alive somewhere. Another example is the existence of the “phantom limb” phenomenon in which a person who has lost a limb is still able to feel pain in it. The human mind refuses to accept what has happened and replaces the lost limb so realistically that the body feels pain in it.
When the loss is a romantic loss people in this stage find it hard, or they may refuse, to believe the love the other person once felt for them has genuinely died.
During the bargaining stage people start to come out of denial but they continue to resist accepting what has happened. They try to find ways to prevent the loss or to change things. When someone has died the grieving survivor may try to strike a bargain with God or the Devil. They may offer to sell their soul to get the loved one back or promise to treat the loved one properly if only they would be allowed to wake up and find the loss was just a nightmare.
Literature and movies overflow with stories of people trying to avoid a loss through bargaining.
When the loss is a relationship bargaining may take the form of promises to change or other actions designed to make the other person change their mind about ending the relationship.
When people enter the anger stage of grief they are beginning to accept the loss is real and, to ward off pain, they focus on anger. It is very common for anger to be directed at the loved one who has died. The person feels an irrational anger at the dead person for leaving them despite knowing the person had no choice. In this stage people often direct anger at God, a doctor, themselves or anyone they feel caused or contributed to the death.
When the loss is a relationship people get angry at the loved ones friends or family for talking the loved one into leaving or with a person they believe has “stolen” the loved one from them. They get angry with themselves for various things they believe made the person stop loving them and, of course, they get angry at the person who has left.
This is one of the stages people often get stuck in particularly if the loss is a romantic one. Divorce courts are filled with people in this stage of the grief cycle. People can become extremely vicious at this point in the cycle as they strike out in an effort to ward off the next stage and/or to punish the person they blame for inflicting this pain on them.
It is particularly hard for anyone who has difficulty expressing the emotion of sadness to move on from this stage. Many men are unable or unwilling to enter the next stage due to their attitude towards crying and can be stuck in the anger stage for a very long time. Some do manage to skip over the next stage but only after they have held on to their anger long enough for the grief to have faded. Without tears this will be a much longer period than if the person had let themselves go through all the stages.
At the sadness stage people are finally starting to believe the loss has happened and there is no way to undo it. People can become depressed in this stage and they may find themselves crying frequently and unexpectedly or feeling empty and hopeless.
During this stage people tend to remember only the best things about what they have lost. They may completely forget whatever negative things there were in what used to be or be unable to see anything positive in what currently is.
This point in the cycle of grief may be so hard to bear that even the person who ended a relationship will think twice. They may believe their sadness about the loss of what used to be means they should never have ended the relationship. They may forget the negative things that caused them to end it and return to the relationship only to end it once again after the sadness has been forgotten.
This is another stage where people can become stuck. Fear of suffering another loss, or being unwilling to accept what has happened, can prevent people from moving out of this stage. Depression can set in and make it difficult to move on to the next stage as well.
In some cases people may even believe if they accept what has happened they will be betraying their loved one or their own perception of what is right. The parent who is afraid they will forget their dead child if they cease being sad or the person who feels they must honour their marriage vows no matter what may resist moving into the next stage. Moving into the next stage can even trigger a new loss and another grief cycle.
Accepting the end of a marriage and moving on may cause a person who takes a lot of pride in keeping their word to grieve the loss of that view of themselves. “I promised it would be until death parted us” may mean the person will grieve for no longer being able to see themselves as a person who has never broken their word.
Ideally, in time, the person accepts the loss, whatever it was, and adjusts to their new situation. They may cease to care about what was lost but not always. Many times the person continues to grieve for the rest of their lives over the loss of a loved one. It may only come up on special occasions such as a birthday or anniversary but the grief no longer consumes them every day. If they have reached the final stage in the grief process they will have found a way to live with the loss and the pain and carry on.
There may be an aching empty space in their lives but they will not be waiting for the person to come through the door any more. They will not be consumed by anger any more. They will be able to eat, sleep, work and even laugh once again.
If the loss was due to the death of a person they may start doing things that indicate they have accepted the loss such as disposing of the dead person’s belongings or redecorating the dead person’s room.
If the loss was romantic they may feel ready to start dating again.