You just lost someone. Maybe to death, a break-up, or divorce. Or maybe you lost something - your job to retirement or your health to an illness.
The loss might have been your choice or maybe it was someone else’s. Maybe, actually, it just happened, and no one is responsible.
Either way, you feel torn apart and confused. You don’t know which way to turn or how to make things better.
That’s understandable. Loss, and the grief that follows, is extremely difficult to navigate, and there’s no magic solution to make you feel instantly happier.
What makes it even more challenging is that we don’t receive any education or guidance in school on how to handle loss. This means that we are left with what our personal experiences have taught us, which may or may not have prepared us for how to handle all of the powerful emotions and life changes that come with loss.
But don’t despair; you’re not alone. In time, and with the support of others, you will get through this and find ways to move forward.
What is Grief?
Grief is a natural response to loss. Many people think of grief as a response to death, but it doesn’t have to be. Grief can arise in the wake of loss of any kind - a loved one to death, divorce, or the end of a friendship, a job or a period of time in your life that suddenly ended.
Is What I’m Feeling Normal?
You may wonder if what you’re feeling is normal. Especially when you’re grieving alongside another person, or you’ve seen a friend or family member grieve before, you may compare your experience to theirs.
I urge you not to compare. We’re all different, shaped by our genetics and life experiences. This makes every person on this planet unique. Because of this, it only makes sense that everyone would grieve just a little bit differently.
Another reason you may question if your reaction to loss is “normal” is because you may have expected it. But, even when you know a loss is coming, grief can still arise. Whether you saw it coming or not, the finality of an end can hit you hard with the reality that your life will be forever changed.
In the months following a loss, you may experience sleeplessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, confusion, wondering what the next steps are, loneliness, profound sadness, tearfulness or unable to cry, numbness or even excessive energy, misplaced humor or increased busyness as a distraction from the pain.
Stages of Grief
For some perspective on what you may be feeling, the stages of grief are helpful. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
While traditionally these stages are said to occur in this order, they really can occur in any order. So if you’re grieving and feel like you skipped a stage or are jumping around between stages, you’re not abnormal or doing anything wrong! These stages are merely a guide.
When you’re in denial, you may feel like you’re in a fog or feel numb. Life may take on a sense of unreality or feel like an alternate universe. You may feel like you’re watching other people live their lives while you are floating on the outside. Life may seem meaningless, and you might question if what happened is actually real.
Denial is the body’s way of protecting itself from the pain of the loss. Loss takes a tremendous toll on the body, and denial is the body’s way of saying, “This is too much. I need some time to process.”
Traditionally anger is the second stage. Anger is also a protective emotion, shielding you from the deep hurt and sorrow of the loss.
Anger can be an attempt to make sense of the loss. When you have someone to blame, it can be easier to accept what happened.
Then comes bargaining (though again, you may not experience these stages in this order. That’s completely okay.)
Bargaining is when you might think of the “what ifs” and the “if onlys.” Bargaining may come in flashes of thoughts or moments in the midst of other stages of grief. It’s the mind’s way of avoiding acceptance that what happened is permanent and unchangeable.
What if I had taken my husband to the doctor sooner?
If only I’d not gotten in the car that day, I wouldn’t have gotten into the accident that killed my best friend.
"What if I agree to do x, will you bring my girlfriend back, God?”
When bargaining doesn’t work, depression typically sets in. With this may comes feeling of emptiness and this stage might feel endless.
Many people struggle with this stage because depression is a stigmatized word. But it’s actually completely expected to experience this in the wake of a loss. Of course it shouldn’t go on forever, but in the wake of a loss, depression is part of the normal and healthy grief reaction.
Acceptance signifies a recognition that what happened is reality and it can’t be changed. It does not mean that you suddenly forget what happened or feel happy that it did.
This is the time when you will figure out a new normal. Depending on what kind of loss you sustained, it might look like making solo vacation plans, shifting family roles, or finding new ways to fill your free time.
Acceptance means living a life without that person, that job, that thing you lost. It means adjusting your way of living because this new reality is here to stay. It can also lead to creating new meaning for how your life moves forward.
We know that grieving is a process, and how you cope during this process will determine how you evolve through it. Counseling can help you navigate this confusing time, develop skills, build resilience, and create meaning.
If you are grieving a loss and would like professional support, please call (760) 942-8663. I would love to speak with you and share in this journey of healing with you.