Experiencing Grief and Loss: What do we do after?

Grief is a universal experience that happens to all of us at some point of time yet remains unique to everyone. Kubler-Ross conceived the concept of there being stages/process to grief. Hence the 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each person experiences the stages differently; some might experience only one stage; others experience the stages in varied orders.  Even Kubler-Ross didn’t experience all the stages in her theory of grief before her death. Simply put, there’s no fixed duration or process when it comes to grieving. Whether it be we’re stuck in the bargaining stage for weeks or alternating between depression and acceptance, we react to grief in our own unique and individual ways.

Denial- When confronted with sudden bad news, we assuage ourselves by telling actively denying the news or attempt to minimize it. At the same time, we struggle to process and integrate such information into our reality.

Anger- When the information can no longer be denied or minimized, we develop anger as a response to our emotional pain and sorrow. This anger can be directed to yourself, others, or the outside world.

Bargaining- We’re desperate to avoid the pain or loss. Often, we try pleading with a higher power to prevent this outcome or loss. We spend time thinking of the what ifs and only ifs. We attempt to ‘bargain’ or regain control of a situation that is already beyond our control. In a sense, we ‘time travel’ to fix our mistakes or loss.

Depression- Our active attempts to process and alleviate our grief slow down. The reality of our loss sinks in, so does our sadness and sorrow. We struggle to move on. Everything in life feels messy and complicated. At times, its difficult overcoming feeling demotivated and directionless. Daily activities and interactions become less frequent and more difficult.

Acceptance- It involves us moving beyond the grief and coming to accept the loss in our lives. It doesn’t mean you forget about it, rather accept it has happened and try to find a different outlook on it. We no longer resist our current reality.

More than often, it’s difficult to accept that someone we care deeply for and hold fond memories is gone from our lives. This pain can last and affect us for years. Step that we can take to adjust to our new reality include:

1. Remember not your loss, rather remember the loved one.

The trouble with grief is that when we remember those, we loss, we tend to focus on the painful and unpleasant parts. Remembering our loved ones doesn’t only have to involve negative emotions but also the fond and treasured memories we had with them. Try recalling positive moments where the both of you laughed, had fun, or enjoyed each other’s company. Think of these memories each time you experience negative emotions and memories from your loss. Take it step by step, you can start writing down whatever happy memories you had with them, big or small. After a while, it becomes easier and even enjoyable to think about them. In a way, the people we’ve lost have never left us but instead continue living on in our memories and thoughts. 

2. Acknowledge the pain.

Your grief is your own. Give yourself the time and space to grieve and feel for your loss. There isn’t a fixed or specific manner or time to grief. Let yourself experience whatever you’re feeling and don’t shame or guilt yourself over whether if it’s appropriate or not. Don’t ignore the pain or discomfort. Start journaling or talking to someone you trust about how your loss affects you. If you’re the creative type, you can express yourself through art or writing. If left unresolved, grief can lead to further mental health issues.

3. Recognize the positives.

After some time, the loss you’ve experienced may seem more distant than before. You may still have tough days dealing with your pain and grief, but some days don’t feel so bad anymore. You may even start laughing or feeling happy again. Don’t feel bad or punish yourself for that. Life isn’t only about the bad moments, there’s also the good ones as well. It may still be difficult to pay attention to the positives, but you can always start small. Like how pleasant the weather feels today or the funny thing your dog did today. Look back. What have you learned from your loss and what you have gained along the way?

4. Reach out to others.

Allow yourself to reach out to the people who care about you and share your grief. Recognize the strengths that your friends and family might have for you in these difficult times. Some may offer emotional support to you by listening to you talk about your loss or loved one. Others may not be very good at talking about loss but may offer more physical or social distractions. For example, simply being able to hang out with them helps boost your mood.

If you lack an adequate support system, we highly encourage you to join a support group. Meeting and hearing from people who suffered from similar losses can help build a sense of connection and understanding. 

We highly recommend professional help or assistance if your grief doesn’t get better with time, rather it gets worse. Signs to look out for you or your close ones include feeling depressed most the time, no longer gaining interest or pleasure from the activities you used to do, feeling worthless or guilty, fatigued or having constant thoughts of death or suicide. You can get in touch with a professional by contacting one of our licensed and experienced therapists at Mentalogue.