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By Mark DaCosta- In a previously published article, the mental illness known as depression was explored. This article focuses on grief, and how to cope with it. It must be emphasised that while depression is an illness, grief, on the other hand, is not an illness; grief is normal. Grief is a natural human response to loss. It is the suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Most people associate grief with the death of a relative or close friend.
However, the grief response can be triggered by almost any loss. Including the loss of a pet, a relationship, a job, financial security, a valued place in society, as well as such events as selling the family home, retirement, a miscarriage, even the loss of a treasured dream or ambition can cause grief. Evidently, this is a complex subject. This article will now address some common topics associated with grief, and how to deal with the normal process of human grief.
The Grieving process.
Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.
The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried — and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.
Stages of grief.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the idea of what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalised them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up. The psychiatrist noted the following stages:
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
However, experts are careful to point out that not everyone who grieves goes through all these stages — and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.
Notably, Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Physical effects of grief.
While most persons know that grief causes mental effects such as sadness, guilt, fear, and anger, there may also be physical effects. The experts say that during the grieving process, fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains about the body, and sleeplessness can also occur. Again, it must be noted, that these are normal reactions to the loss of someone or something that we love; they are not a sign of illness.
Types of Grief.
Experts recognise three types of grief.
- Anticipatory grief, as the name suggests, develops before a significant loss occurs rather than after. If a loved one is terminally ill, for example, you have an aging pet, or you know that your retirement or job loss is imminent you may start grieving your loss before it happens.
- Disenfranchised grief can occur when your loss is devalued, stigmatised, or cannot be openly mourned. Some people may minimise the loss of a job, a pet, or a friendship, for example, as something that’s not worth grieving over. You may feel stigmatised if you suffered a miscarriage or lost a loved one to suicide.
Disenfranchised grief can also occur when your relationship to a deceased is not recognised. Some people may consider it inappropriate to grieve for a work colleague, classmate, or neighbour, for example. As a close friend or same-sex partner you may be denied the same sympathy and understanding as a blood relative. This can make it even more difficult to come to terms with your loss and navigate the grieving process.
- Complicated grief occurs when the pain at a significant loss may never completely disappear, but it should ease up over time. When it doesn’t go away, and it keeps you from resuming your daily life and relationships, it may be a sign of complicated grief.
How to cope with grief.
The normal process of grief usually runs its course and comes to an end. At the end of the process, one is usually able to get on with life. The grieving process though, may be quite painful for the person experiencing it as well as those offering support.
Experts say that if you are experiencing grief you should do certain things to make the process less painful. You may wish to seek support from family and friends, draw comfort from your faith, and seek the help of a therapist. Meanwhile, it is important that you take care of your physical health, and try to maintain your hobbies or interests. Although the grieving process cannot be hurried — it must run its course — it is important to try to remain healthy so that you can resume a normal life.
Keeping in mind that the process of grief cannot be hurried, it is important that if you are comforting a person who is grieving, that you do not attempt to hurry that person. It is not helpful to tell a grieving person that “it is time to move on.” When the grieving person is ready to move on, he or she will move on.
Finally, while we know that grief is a normal reaction, a major loss may trigger depression — which is not a normal reaction. If a major loss causes suicidal tendencies, this may signal the onset of depression. In Guyana, persons who need help with depression or grief may call 600-7896 at any time of the day or night. The call is free of cost.