Grief is a word that we frequently hear when a loved one dies, someone moves, or people divorce, to name a few. However, did you know that this very same, sometimes extensive grieving process can be experienced with the loss of “things”? Yes, actual tangible items. As I have watched the display of tragedies in our world over the past few years, there have been displays of numerous people grieving over deceased loved ones. However, with 9-1-1, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters, people also lose many tangible, sometimes invaluable “things”. I recently learned that this can jolt reality just as much as losing a loved one. Now you may be saying, “Wait a minute, ‘things’ can often be replaced…..losing a loved one to death or losing touch is far worse.” For some it may be and yet for others these two experiences are comparable….at least when considering the grieving process. Let me explain by telling you about a recent experience of mine.
I traveled to Kansas City, Missouri on a business trip. Somewhat rushed on a Friday morning, I parked in an open-air lot near the Federal building. When my co-worker and I returned to my vehicle at noon, my back window had been shattered and all of our luggage stolen and we were left wondering what to do. Beginning at the moment I saw my shattered window (this happened approximately one month ago), I have been moving through the stages of grief….yes over “things”. I have been grieving the loss of “things”, “possessions”….this has been particularly difficult for me as I pride myself on not needing a lot of possessions. Yet, I find myself grieving their loss……
There are several stages of grief and each person moves through these stages in his/her own unique way. Some may not experience every stage; some may become stuck in one stage for a long period of time, while others may move through all the stages rather quickly. For myself, I have moved through these stages rapidly; however, simply going through these stages has reminded me of what many of my clients deal with for weeks, months, even years.
Let’s look at the stages of the grieving process as we work through my experience. The first stage of the grieving process typically is shock. According to one source, “Shock occurs when a loss produces a kind of anesthetized response which protects us from the impact of the blow. This experience can last momentarily or for several days or weeks depending on the impact of the blow and the readiness of the mind and body to move on. Shock sometimes provides enough anesthetic for a person to continue normal activities for awhile, make decisions and take care of immediate needs.” I experienced the shock stage when I initially saw my vehicle. For an instant it seemed time had stopped and then my adrenalin kicked in and I began making decisions very rapidly.
The second stage of the grieving process is panic. The panic stage is described as the grieving person not being able to get his/her mind off the loss, which hinders the person’s effectiveness. People suffering loss cannot concentrate and may feel that they are losing their minds and may not be able to function at all. I experienced the panic stage as we sat at the glass company’s office while they covered my window with plastic so we could make the drive home. It was at this time that I began thinking, “What if I get a flat tire from all the glass; what if they did something to my car and we break down on the interstate”? As we were leaving the glass company, I suddenly had a complete loss in my sense of direction and had no idea how to get out of Kansas City. Finally we chose to head in one direction and prayed it was accurate. From this point on I had knots in my stomach and felt ill for nearly two hours. Everything just seemed surreal.
It was approximately at this time that I moved into the stage of denial. According to one source, “Loss is often handled by denial. The denial process may last for only a short while or for years….Grief is painful and [some] people feel that it will be less painful not to accept or face the loss. This is not true, of course, since postponed grief only means that it will come later and take longer to resolve. Denial for a limited period is, however, normal and healthy.” As my co-worker and I drove further and further away from Kansas City, I found myself continually looking at my rearview mirror and even turning around to make sure this was really happening. Finally, we stopped approximately two hours outside of Kansas City and it was sometime around this time that I moved into the stage of guilt.
Guilt is a normal feeling to have when one has lost something, whether it be “things” or an individual who was close to them. Normal guilt includes thinking of some things we did not do. Unresolved guilt and misunderstood emotions can cause lengthy misery and a variety of physical symptoms. I began thinking things like, “Maybe I should have just left my car at the hotel and walked to the conference. If I would not have been in such a hurry…..” All kinds of shoulds, oughts, mights, etc., all of the time knowing deep down that there was nothing I could do about it now.
For me, the stages of guilt and release were intermingled. Release is explained as reality beginning to dawn and emotional breakdown which may occur. Tear glands may flow, sobbing may occur. Holding these emotions back may be a sign of trouble rather than bravery. Emotions may be released by talking, shouting, running, or working. In whatever form they are expressed, the feelings must be expressed. When I got home that evening, I was still thinking about the shoulds, oughts and mights, yet I found myself crying uncontrollably. I would be watching television and start crying for no reason. My real breakdown came when I was getting ready for church on Sunday morning. I suddenly realized, while standing in front of the mirror, that I basically had to re-learn how to apply my make-up and fix my hair, or at least that is how it felt to me. I suddenly became filled with rage and threw my make-up, bawling uncontrollably. I was so confused at this point….I was not sure if I wanted to be hugged or left alone…..if I wanted to scream or cry. For me this was my emotional breaking point and my point of release. For the next couple of weeks I had periods of frustration when someone would try to joke with me about the incident. I also had periods of sadness when I would go to my closet and realize that what I intended to wear was gone….stolen…..lost forever. Just “things” but all a part of me, all “things” that helped me create who I am and give me identify and help to express myself to the world.
At my emotional breaking point, I experienced the grief stage of anger/resentment. The anger/resentment stage is defined as a longing to blame someone for the loss we are experiencing. Anger at self may be experienced from the loss. Anger may be felt toward God. The human mind must look for somebody to blame. We may blame friends for lack of comfort and family for not giving enough care. I experienced being mad at myself for parking where I did, thinking that I should have known better. I tried to blame work, thinking that if I had not been in Kansas City for work, this would not have happened. I tried to blame friends and family for not understanding and not empathizing enough with me. However, I learned that none of this blaming was really helping me process what had happened.
For the next week or so I went through stages of grieving but mostly my heart and my emotions just seemed heavy. It was during this time that I experienced the grieving stage of returning. Returning can be described as a period where those around the griever do not understand the heavy heart. Everyone but the griever has forgotten the loss. The grieving person may try to hold onto the memory, keeping the emotions alive.
It is at the point that I write this article that I am in the stages of hope and reality. The stage defined as hope is described as a period of time when the clouds begin to lift and the sun comes through. This does not mean that some of the clouds will not return but they will be less severe and pass more quickly. For most people more sunlight shows through after the first anniversary passes. Secondly, the stage known as reality is defined as a period of growth and change. We do not become our old selves again. We can become a stronger, more feeling person with this experience by becoming more mature and turning to help others face similar circumstances. People who have worked through the grieving process to this stage do not deny the pain of the experience or expect life to be the same again, but they take up the pieces and make them useful.
Today I am mostly hopeful that things will work out with the insurance company and I am able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, there are still times of sadness and times when the strong sense of loss returns. For example, just yesterday I was searching through the house for a bracelet to wear when it suddenly hit me….it was in my luggage and was stolen. Instantly I had a sense of loss and felt sad for a short period of time.
Aside from the periodic sense of loss and sadness, I am trying to determine what it is that I am to learn from this experience—this is the reality stage. To this date I have not quite figured this out. However, I have regained a better sense of the grief process and can more easily relate to my clients who are experiencing the grieving process. Also, I guess I have learned that maybe I am a bit more materialistic than I had originally thought. Regardless of the outcome, although I am hopeful it will be positive, I will continue to grow and learn from this experience.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the grieving process, know that it is natural and that everyone processes these stages differently. The most important thing is to process and when you become stuck in a particular stage….seek guidance in continuing your journey…..we will all become a little stronger for having gone through it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
- Michele is seeing clients in the Broken Bow office. Michele Taylor graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in May 2002 and with her Master’s Degree in Community Counseling in 2006. Michele obtained her Licensed Mental Health Practitioner status in May 2009 after completing her internship with Wholeness Healing Center and entering into practice for about a year.
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