Grief and loss - Am I doing it right?
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Grief is a natural response to loss. That loss however, is not limited to the death of a loved one or pet. It can be the loss of a relationship, a job, a home or the loss of a limb or one of our senses. It relates to anything we have lost and our emotions, feelings and the process that goes with it. Years ago when I found myself on my own the loss took me by surprise, the intensity of those overwhelming feelings. I had lost my identity - who I was, I had lost my past - all my memories connected to someone I no longer had around me. Those thoughts and memories now painful. I had lost my future. All my dreams and plans had been with the person who I was no longer with. Who do I share my past with? How do I re build my future? What is my present? These were all questions that were in my mind. How could I possibly be selfish and think about myself at this time. I then felt angry - why not? I couldn't understand all these feelings so how could other people understand? Years down the road, and years of being a grief counsellor I now know these were all NORMAL feelings.
Models of Grief and loss
There are different models that help explain the loss and grief process, the process by which we heal. The process that we are scared to talk about because we may become upset, or if we are talking to the grieving person we may upset them. In fact it is usually the opposite. The person often wants to talk about their loss, it is part of the healing process. It helps them to feel OK about it and to know that others too, remember. There are a few different models that help to explain the grief process, but I will only look at 2 for now.
Kubler-Ross model describes 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance (Kubler-Ross 1969). It suggests we can fluctuate between these stages and we can repeat the stages too. Sometimes going back and forth randomly. There is no right or wrong way to go through these stages. Some of these stages or emotions that are involved can be worrying to us, for example anger. Anger is powerful and scary especially if you are not usually someone who feels intense anger. Why are we angry? Who are we angry at? Then denial. Denial is an amazing coping mechanism, we can trick ourselves into believing if it isn't real or it didn't happen it cannot hurt us. What about bargaining? Have you ever said: I will do anything for just one more day/hug/chat? We go through these stages until finally acceptance of the loss is managed.
Another model is Stroebe and Schutt (1999) is the dual process model. Here they suggest we are either loss orientated or restoration orientated. In the loss orientation we are affected by all the things that remind us of our loss. The smallest thing triggers our loss it could be a smell of perfume/aftershave or the pets blanket, their voice, memories of things you did together, photos anything that reminds us of them takes us right back to that initial moment of intense loss, bewilderment and sadness overwhelming us once more. We may even feel or think we cannot get over it or move forward, that we are stuck, it is like walking through treacle. Then we may go into restoration orientation. Daily things or people help us to be 'normal'. These things distract us, we forget just for a while that pain and we can see a way forward. The suggestion is we move between these two orientations. The loss one gradually getting less and the restoration one growing. In time more of our life will be spent in the restoration. Yet grief has a way of reminding us of the loss and suddenly out of the blue we get those sad feelings, that emptiness once more. It can feel so intense after a while in restoration that it almost feels as though we have gone back to the beginning of our journey. Normally we haven't, but just for that moment in time it feels it. Being able to understand a bit about our loss process helps. For me knowing I was going through normal stages reassured me that I wouldn't feel like this forever. I was able to see though, that as time went on I would fluctuate between that feel of immense loss and sadness but of hope too. A future was there ready for me for when I was ready.
If we look at grief as a ball in our heart. At the beginning it is huge, bigger than our life, our emotions, those around us our memories. It takes over, then over time life starts to grow, just a little bit at a time and slowly it surround that grief ball, shrinking it. Life then becomes bigger than the grief. Sometimes that trigger hits us unexpectedly and wham, the grief takes over. However, there will be a day when daily life and all that comes with it does become bigger and stronger for longer periods and although the grief is always there, we can manage it that little bit more.
There are occasions when the loss becomes too difficult. It becomes what is seen as complicated grief. This is where those intense feelings do not subside, even after a period of time. I want to add here that there is NO time limit on the grieving process, we are all individual and we all manage loss in our way. Irrelevant of models and societal expectations of 'getting over it' do not ever feel you have to be over it in a certain time. However, complicated grief is different. Those feelings do not subside at all over time, the memories of that person cannot be recalled because they are too painful. We may not be able to interact with others, to work, to live, we withdraw into our own world. Self care becomes affected, we stop eating, bathing, washing our hair. We lose who we are, especially if it was perhaps a partner or child. We are no longer a wife/husband/mother/father for example. Life seems hopeless.
However you grieve your loss is yours and is the right way for you. I remember after the loss of a loved one that I was told aren't you over it yet? It had only been a year. Realistically one birthday, one Christmas. Yet I felt as though there was something wrong with me. I worried then that I had issues because I wasn't over the loss. There is no time limit or wrong way. No-one else nows how you felt about.... no-one knows what you think about..... no-one is in your head feeling those emotions except you. You are the expert on you and your loss. Counselling can help if you feel stuck, or feel you need to talk about that loss. It is often helpful to be able to talk about it to someone who is not emotionally or directly involved. You do not have to worry about upsetting them or not going through the process the same as the other person. The counsellor can help you work through your grief and help you remember in a way you want to.
Remember loss and grief journey's are individual, as individual as we are to each other. We do things our way and it is not right or wrong. We don't need to feel guilty about how we grieve or how long the process takes. It is ok to move through stages, to repeat them or to fluctuate between feeling ok one day but awful the next. It is all normal and it is your way.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by grief you thought life would never be the same?
What was your experience of loss and can you relate to either of the above models?
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