Given recent headlines about shootings in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota, I want to share my thoughts about dealing with loss. The feelings caused by loss of a loved one range from shock and denial, through bargaining, to depression, anger, and acceptance. The stages of mourning are experienced by everyone who suffers a loss. Grief may be caused by your own terminal illness, loss through divorce, or the violent death of a stranger. Significant losses cause severe grief.
The stages of grief don’t occur in the same sequence for everyone; each of us experiences grief with in our own way. The stages of grief are natural defenses that protect us from overwhelming emotional pain. People generally move among stages as they deal with loss. We may experience shock and denial, then anger, depression, followed by bargaining, denial again, then depression, anger, and final acceptance of the loss.
The death of another can lead each of us to evaluate our own mortality and the life we lead. Reevaluation can be healthy if it leads us to deeper insights and new commitments. There is no magical way to deal with mourning–each of us must work through grief in our own way. Don’t run away from grief if you want to recover. The key to accepting loss is to experience your emotions as they happen. As long as there is life there is hope. Some of us need to grieve publicly and talk about our loss while others experience their grief privately and internally.
The first stage of loss is usually shock, numbness, and denial. We suppress our feelings and hide from the facts. We try to forget the loss and hope it’s all a bad dream. Denial allows us to handle necessary arrangements such as medical treatment, hospice care, funeral arrangements, or care for children. Gradually, as grief diminishes, denial will fade and we experience the full force of our grief.
Later, we transform pain into anger. During this second stage of grief, many of us feel abandoned, believe God has let us down, or we get angry at the person who died or divorced us. Secretly, we may offer a bargain with God that we will be a devout person for the rest of our life if only He will fix our loss. Death of a loved one can trigger feelings of abandonment and thoughts of why did they die and leave me alone? Persons facing a divorce will review their relationship and often blame the spouse for their loss. If the individual is facing a terminal illness, they may ask–why me?
The next stage of grief, called bargaining, involves preoccupation with thoughts of what might have been done to prevent or fix the loss. We become preoccupied with thoughts of what we should have done better, how we mistreated someone, or how we should have taken better care of ourselves to avoid the illness. Grieving is a personal process and there is no “right” way to handle it. Feel your emotions and deal with them rather than avoiding your feelings.
Following the bargaining stage, people realize the reality of their loss for the first time and may become severely depressed. If depressed, they may lose their appetite, be unable to sleep, lack interest in life, lose their energy, be unable to concentrate, and cry all the time. Additionally, during depression, we feel lonely, empty, isolated, and sorry for ourselves.
Finally, the sense of loss will diminish and we will be able to come to terms with our feelings of abandonment, rejection, or fear of death. We will begin to accept loss for what it is–an inevitable part of life. Dealing with loss is a uniquely personal experience. No one can make it easy for you to handle the hard work of grieving. However, friends and loved ones can help by offering comfort when you are depressed, listening when you need to talk, and being there to love and support you through the loss.
You must allow yourself to feel grief as it happens. Avoiding painful feelings delays healing. You have to feel your loss to reach acceptance.
There is no easy path.