Understanding the Grieving Process

Understanding the Grieving Process

What is Grief?

Grief is often defined as intense sorrow caused by a loss. We grieve when we expect to lose or have lost someone or something that we are attached to. The intensity of our grief is proportionate to the degree of attachment that we have to the loss. In other words, the more attached we are to the other person or thing, the greater is our grief when the loss occurred.

The pain of loss can sometimes feel overwhelming, and is often accompanied by a mixture of emotions and thoughts. It is important to know that grieving for the loss of a loved one or something that we treasured and valued is a natural reaction. It is alright to feel sad, hurt and confused when we are grieving. Often, the grieving process can take a long time before we can move on with our life.

Causes of Grief

Some of the more common causes of grief are:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce or separation
  • Loss of a job
  • Miscarriage
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of health
  • Financial loss
  • Retirement
  • Loss of a friendship

Stages of Grief

According to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief. They are:

  • 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.”

Dr. Kubler-Ross observed these stages in her patients who were terminally ill. While these may be common reactions to loss, it is also important to know that each person experiences grief in his or her own unique way. Variation is common and is to be expected. Also, it is not necessary to go through all the stages in order to heal.

Four Tasks of Mourning

William Worden suggests that there are four tasks one must accomplish in order for the grieving and mourning processes to be completed appropriately, and life equilibrium to be re-established. They are:

  • Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss. …
  • Task 2: Process your grief and pain. …
  • Task 3: Adjust to the world without your loved one in it. …
  • Task 4: Find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life.

Accepting the reality of our loss is necessary for healing to occur. The more we resist this new reality, the longer it will take us to get through our grieving process. As we gradually accept the loss and move on, we establish a new equilibrium. Pain and sorrow subside. Confusion is gradually replaced by new outlook in life and new purpose.

For most people, life goes on. Some may even find a renewed vigor and appreciation of life.

Pathological Grief

However, there is a handful who may continue to have symptoms of grief that are far too long, too debilitating and too intense. This would be considered pathological grief and would require consultation with a psychiatrist.

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