Grief is an essential life skill: knowing how to survive grief means feeling safe to take another risk, and grieving actually expands one’s capacity to love. The longer you live, the more need you will have to understand grieving. Expression of grief, and respect for your loved ones, is very important to the grieving process. A symbol of grief for the loss of one person reminds us all of our grief for anyone we lost. Understand the stages of grief, so you will not be surprised or worried as each stage comes along.
Grief is an organic process, it has its own wisdom, and it needs a witness. There is nothing you can do about the loss, so the grief, anger and frustration that you feel are normal reactions to the circumstances. So you go through the stages of grief: shock, anger, seeking, depression and peace. It’s normal for you to feel fear and anger that this happened, a need for prayer and comfort, bouts of being overwhelmed, exhausted, disconnected, and depressed, and, finally, acceptance and understanding that this devastating event is a part of the risky life we humans all live. These feelings will come jumbled up, they’ll recycle, and come in different order.
Anniversaries are very important in the grieving process. Each time an anniversary comes around, survivors re-experience the original loss. The first year of grief is the hardest, because it presents you with anniversaries and/or holidays all year around and each one is the first time without your loved one. The second year is somewhat easier, because you’ve survived each anniversary once. The actual anniversary of the event is the day that marked the change in your life, so for most people it continues to be significant. Marking the anniversary of your loss with a ceremonial event (such as posting on a grief site, visiting a memorial or special place, or gathering friends and family around) helps you feel better. It also helps to include a reference to the person who was lost on each significant occasion, such as wedding anniversaries, religious holidays and birthdays. Allowing yourself to grieve is really important, because letting the feelings out in an appropriate way prevents them from building up.
Loss of a Spouse
Whether the marriage was a good one, or a problem, you will grieve at the loss of a spouse. In a divorce, you’re grieving for what might have been, what was, and the loss of your hopes and dreams. After the passing of a spouse, you’re grieving for the loss of that most important person in your life: it feels like a giant hole in your heart, your life, and in the middle of everything. Either way, you’ll probably go through stages of grief: denial (when you forget he or she is gone) anger (about being abandoned, about all the things that went wrong, sometimes anger at yourself, and at God) experimenting/replacement (trying new things, looking for new friends, a new outfit, hairdo or car) depression (very down days, when you can’t get out of bed or life seems hopeless) and acceptance (the bandages are off, you feel complete with it, and ready to really build your new life.)
Sudden or Gradual Loss
Grieving for losing someone suddenly is different from grieving for someone who passes away gradually, or fades away from brain issues like Alzheimer’s. With sudden loss, there is more shock, and the grieving process is delayed. With gradual loss, we grieve with the person who is dying or losing awareness as the process goes on. The grief is often completed by the time the person dies. This is sometimes confusing to survivors.
What To Do
Take it slowly. You will heal. Spend time around people you trust. Plan ahead for holidays and anniversaries, so you’re not alone and miserable. Don’t worry about feeling timid, weak, shy, exhausted, angry&emdash;these are all normal parts of grieving and healing. Take extra good care of yourself&emdash;sleep, nutrition, exercise all will make you feel better. If you feel like trying something new, it’s OK, but don’t make any drastic decisions in the first throes of loss. You’re not thinking very clearly so, take a trip, but don’t move across country. Stay over with a friend when you’re feeling lonely, but don’t jump into a new relationship. Also, be cautious about financial decisions and your financial future. Don’t make any decisions when you feel despair, panic or rage. Wait a little while, until you settle down. If you have to make decisions during this time, rely on good advice from people you trust.
Don’t try to survive this on your own. Ask friends and family for support, or find a grief group. Many churches and hospitals offer them. If you need more help, don’t hesitate to get therapy. Whether your therapist helps you work through your grief, your “abandonment issues,” or simply coaches you in building your new life, an objective voice can really be helpful and make a big difference.