Grief and Healing Your Broken Heart
Grief is a tough one. None of us are immune. Sooner or later we will all be hit with loss. Grief is our natural response to loss in our lives. It is the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is no longer with us or has been taken away from us. Any loss can bring about grief. Divorce and/or relationship breakups, loss of a job, death of a pet, loss of a friendship, loss of safety after a trauma, and/or the death of someone we love are some of the losses that may bring about grief and the need to work at healing.
Grief is the process by which we adjust to the loss. Grief does not have any short cuts so you need to realize that it is essential to your future mental health to grieve immediately and for as long as it takes. The more significant the loss, the more intense the emotional response. The loss of someone close may be quite traumatic and bring about raw, overwhelming pain that may make a person wonder if he/she will get through the moment. Experiencing symptoms with a period of intense sadness, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, and other dysphoric affect is normal, often presenting very much like those symptoms seen in Major Depression.
Let’s face it – losing someone we are close to has a major impact in our lives. If that person played a central role in our lives, then we may have oriented much of our day, our activities, our thoughts and our life around that person. We were hardwired with that person. Regrouping and figuring out how to navigate through takes time. There are no short cuts. You don’t “get over” death.
There are different schools of thought regarding the stages of grief and how you will move through your grief. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks about the five stages of grief: denial, anger bargaining, depression and acceptance. (Kubler-Ross, 1969) Dr. Roberta Temes and Geoffrey Gorer talk about three stages: numbness, disorganization and reorganization. (Temes, 1980) J. William Worden proposed four tasks of grief; accept the reality of the loss, process your grief and pain, adjust to the world without your loved on in it, and find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life. (Stang, 2012)Regardless, grief will come to an end when you see some light at the end of the tunnel. You will still feel the loss, but you will survive the process and get through it. It will not be easy and it will take some time. it will not be orderly and predictable. But you will get through it.
The first part of the process of grief is shock and numbness, when you try to reorient yourself to find some semblance that may make some sense. At this point in your process, the shock and numbness probably give you protection, allowing you to go through the motions of the process without taking in more than you can really handle. You may find yourself in this stage for several months. You may also be overcome with feelings of disbelief, anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety, depression, relief, dreams and physical symptoms.
One important step is to find support after loss. This may mean you turn to friends or family members, allowing those who care about you to be there for you. Do not be afraid to ask for help, or let others attend to you. Tell people what you need. Often people draw comfort from their religious community and the traditions that come from this. Joining a support group may help if you are feeling lonely and will give you a way to share your sorrow with others who are struggling with the similar losses. Or you may want to talk to a mental health professional or a grief counselor. This can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.
Because it may look like “depression”, you may consider medication to help you with the symptoms. Normal grief generally doesn’t warrant the use of antidepressants. Medication may relieve some of the symptoms but it will not treat the cause, which is the loss. Coupled with the fact that when you numb the pain, you still, eventually, have to work through that pain when you go off the medications and the numbing goes away.
Grieving is personal and shouldn’t be compared to others. Your process is your own. The grieving process takes time and healing happens gradually. There is no forcing this process and there is no timetable to say what is the normal time for grieving. So don’t worry about what others say, or what you think you should be doing. Wherever you are in the process is exactly where you should be.
What we do know is that you need to do your grieving. You don’t want to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing as this will just make it worse for you and delay your healing process. Feeling sad and lonely is normal. Crying is not a sign of weakness. Let yourself be authentic and real and show your true feelings as this is probably helpful to all who were a part of your loved one’s life. If you are not a person who cries, that does not mean you aren’t grieving; you may have other ways of showing it. There is no time table for how long you will feel the intense grief. Allow yourself the process and you will eventually come out on the other side of it. I will be following up this article with some more tips on managing grief in the next edition.
Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone.
Stang, D. (2012, July 7). www.alliance of hope. Retrieved from http://www.allianceofhope.org/blog_/2012/07/the-4-tasks-of-grief.html.
Temes, R. (1980). Living with an empty chair. New York City: New Horizon Press.