Understanding Grief and Loss and How to Cope

November 13, 2018
We will all experience a loss at some point in our lives. We may lose a job, our relationships may end, or someone we love may pass away. Grief knows no limits and can appear immediately after a loss or take some time to surface. It is important to note that every person experiences grief differently. There is no “right” way to grieve a loss. We may experience sadness, anger, resentment, relief, remorse, etc. No emotion is wrong and the range of feelings may vary wildly. In the midst of grief, we typically have days where we may function at the level we were prior to the loss, and days where we may not be able to function well at all. There is also no time limit for grieving. We all experience our emotions differently and react to loss differently. It is a disservice to us to compare our grief to someone else’s.

Grief can take on many forms but there are a few similarities that have been noted. While we are grieving, we may go through specific stages. These five stages were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. Kubler-Ross identifies the five stages as denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

When we first experience a loss we may go through a period of denial. We may say things like “This isn’t happening” or “This isn’t real.” We may choose to push the loss aside and not experience the emotions related to the loss and isolate from those around us.

The second stage, anger, may come after we begin to experience the pain and consequences related to the loss. We may take out on anger on those we love, our co-workers, friends, or other objects. We may rationally understand that our anger is misplaced but emotionally, we may feel pain or hurt related to the loss.

The third stage is bargaining. We transition into this stage when denial and the pain from anger decreases. We experience a feeling of helplessness and start asking ourselves “what if” questions, such as “What if I would have asked for help sooner?” or “What if the doctor caught the illness earlier?” We may start reaching out to our higher power asking for forgiveness or help with resolving the situation. We may also start questioning our past decisions that could have led to the current loss.

The fourth stage is depression. While experiencing depression, we begin to look at the stressors related to a loss, such as the cost of a funeral, losing income from a job, or feeling lonely. We may feel aligned with depression as a way to honor the loss. We can get caught up in feeling that we don’t deserve to feel happiness or connection, but as we allow ourselves to experience sadness, we begin to prepare ourselves to accept what life will be like without that particular person or thing in our lives.

The final stage is acceptance. We come to a point in our process where we begin to accept our current situation and attempt to move forward. We may not forget the loss or the emotions related to it, but we realize that it is time to let go and engage in different experiences.

Kubler-Ross identified these as stages but they are not linear, meaning we do not experience these stages in this order. We may experience one stage before the other and we may even go back to previous stages we’ve already experienced. We may always grieve some losses but the hope is that our ability to cope increases over time. Remember, we all experience grief differently and there is no timeline or time limit for each stage or the grieving process in general.

Coping with Grief
It can be difficult to know how to cope with a loss after it happens. It may feel like we will never move forward from our feelings of sadness, anger, and hurt. There are many ways to cope with loss but here are a few you can keep in mind. Reach out for support when going through a loss. When we experience a loss, it may be our instinct to retreat and isolate from others. We may feel that we do not deserve to feel better or return to our lives. However, seeking support from family and close friends can make the difference. Even if we aren’t looking for advice or answers, simply being in the presence of people can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about the loss. It can help with the grieving process to talk about memories of the loss of a loved one or the loss of an important role. Sometimes, it can be difficult to talk about the loss, so finding an outlet in journaling or making imagery may bring comfort when you feel overwhelmed with emotion. Remember, grief can be triggered at anytime, so try not to judge yourself or your emotions. Take time to jot down your feelings related to the loss, any positive memories, or ways you’ve handled particular situations related to the loss that will help you in future situations. Sometimes it can be helpful to literally schedule a time when you need to “visit” the loss. This task can assist in decreasing intrusive feelings when you are trying to function in other areas of your life, because you are allowing yourself to grieve. Most importantly, remember to take care of yourself. Spend time doing activities you enjoy, go out with friends, or take time for yourself. Grieving can be a difficult, straining process to go through and if we forget about self-care and self-compassion we can experience fatigue and prolonged depression. Seeking out groups that are specific to your loss, can also be helpful as they are often lead by trained professionals.

Jefferson Oaks Behavioral Health offers a group specific to grief and loss as so many of our patients have experienced significant loss. The support of the group and a therapist are powerful interventions that often assist in coping and reframing loss.

If you or someone you know is struggling with grief and loss, please seek out support by contacting Jefferson Oaks via the website or by calling us at 225-927-5624.