Many people that come in for therapy due to loss they are experiencing often think that there is something wrong with them. They believe this because they do not have the classic symptoms of grieving. There is a common misperception that grieving is experienced through a lot of crying, all-encompassing sadness, and inability to function. Your grief response has to do often with the extensiveness of the loss, life experiences, faith and ways you typically cope with difficult events. Even through the most difficult loss, there can many other emotions that take over, such as numbness, anger, shock or disbelief, fear, and guilt. There can also be physical symptoms related to grieving. Some physical symptoms of grieving include, exhaustion, weakness, headaches, body aches, and nausea, to name a few.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. You can have conflicting emotions at the same time and that is normal. There is no set amount of time that it takes to get through the loss. It does not make you a better or worse person by the amount of time it takes you to work through the grieving process.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with the five stages of grieving. These five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Denial, “This did not happen”. Anger, “Who is to blame?” There is usually blame towards people and blame towards God. Depression “I cannot do anything.” Acceptance “I can be at peace with myself and the situation.” Except for the acceptance, it is normal to have the other four stages happen not necessarily in this order. The stages can vary in time, and you can also re-experience stages. You may also not experience oe stage, and that is also fine. You do not need to go through all the stages to heal.
It is important to deal with the loss. Not dealing with it is like sweeping it under the rug. It does not go away if you try to ignore it. Often times it will come out in other ways such as anxiety, anger, depression, panic. Even when dealing with the loss, there are many other emotions as listed above that can come up. Do not be surprised if you have become more forgetful, disorganized, loss of memory, slow at your work, or need more breaks than usual. This is all normal. As the grieving lessens, so you will find that you are slowly returning to your usual self.
Here are some other misperceptions to remember around grieving. Often people think that they have to cry. This does not usually happen when you are in a state of denial. Crying does not have to be an indicator that you are grieving. You also do not have to constantly be the “strong” one. Share that task with others. There may be a time and place to be strong, but it is important that it is not all the time, or that you are carrying other’s weight for them. You have your own challenges. You do not need to take on anyone else’s grief. It is also important to plan ahead. Pay attention to what some triggers may be and find ways to manage if the triggers occur. Around important events such as holidays, anniversary dates or birthdays, it is nice to start some new rituals or new things that are done on that day. It is also a nice idea to find a way to commemorate that person. Some people will give donations, plant a tree, set up a memorial, do something artistic that represents that person, have a memory circle just to name a few.
It can also be helpful to go to support groups, seek a therapist, talk to family or friends about what you are going through. If you find that you are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, it is a good time to talk to your doctor about medication.
Do not underestimate the toll that grieving can have on you emotionally or physically. Take care of yourself, ask for help and in time, the grieving will slowly lessen and pass.