Grief and Moving Forward After a Loss
Understandably, death is something that’s hard to cope with. We miss those we loved and shared our lives with, but it is also a time to reflect and remember the good times.
The loss of a loved one is a tragic event in anyone’s life. The phrase “moving on” is hard to understand and is not helpful for anyone who is going through this loss — but you can at least strive to move forward.
But what about when our emotions make it difficult for us to move forward after a loss? Grief can explain the initial feelings of sadness and mourning we experience after the death of a loved one — and even the more complicated experience of full-blown depression following a loss.
Losing a Loved One
Grief is described by Webster’s Dictionary as “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” As its definition implies, grief is a strong and overwhelming emotion. People often find themselves feeling numb and mentally removed from daily life, unable to carry on with regular duties while saddened with their loss.
It’s a natural reaction to feel grief when you lose someone — yet it’s also important to know that everyone experiences grief differently. Mourning the loss of a loved one can last for months or years. A person can feel fine one day and the next, may feel depressed all over again.
Though grief looks different for everyone, psychologists define grief in fairly specific terms. Here’s how professionals recognize the signs of grieving in a person who’s experienced a loss.
Stages of Grief
According to Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five different stages of grief. The five-stage grief model was based on her work with terminally ill patients, and strives to define a common experience of grief.
- Denial: The first phase is denial. When you first learn of the loss, it’s hard to comprehend. You are often left feeling shocked and numb. It is the initial stage that helps you survive the loss.
- Anger: As reality sets in, you have to face the pain of your loss. You may feel angry and helpless — and you might unintentionally direct your anger towards other people. It is important to remember that it is no one’s fault and to find other ways to manage your grief.
- Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. No matter what happened, the loss was not your fault — yet during this stage of grief, you may struggle to recognize this.
- Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, lack of sleep (or sleeping all the time), loss of appetite, feeling overwhelmed and loneliness. Unlike clinical depression, this is recognized as a normal part of the grieving process — as long as it lasts for a reasonable amount of time.
- Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss and begin the difficult, yet important process of moving forward with your life. This can be the hardest stage of grief to cope with, but one of the most rewarding, as it allows you to continue to lead a full life and honor your loved one’s passing.
On the way to feeling better, you may go through several of these phases of grief, although not all phases are typical for everyone. Everyone goes through the different stages of grief at a different pace. What may work for some people in terms of how to handle grief may be different from you.
It is okay to experience grief differently from how you are “supposed to” experience it. Regardless, the most important part of grief is finding a way to move forward.
Complicated grief vs. ordinary grief
But what happens when you feel you are unable to move forward from this loss, and allow it to consume your everyday life for longer than you should? According to the National Library of Medicine from the National Institutes of Health, ordinary grief can turn into another condition called complicated grief when it lasts longer than usual. Psychologists disagree on what they consider a “normal” amount of time to grieve, but most agree that six-to-twelve months is a standard grieving period.
Complicated grief is a recently recognized condition that occurs in seven percent of bereaved people. Those suffering from complicated grief tend to be caught up in rumination about the circumstances of death, worrying about its consequences or excessive avoidance of reminders of the loss. They are unable to comprehend the finality and consequences of the loss.
Prolonged symptoms of complicated grief include:
- Intense sadness and emotional pain
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Yearning to be reunited with the deceased
- Preoccupation with the deceased or with the circumstances of the death
- Difficulty engaging in happy memories of the lost person
- Avoidance of reminders of the deceased
- A reduced sense of identity
- Detachment and isolation from surviving friends and family
- Lack of desire to pursue personal interests or plans
Ordinary grief is a psychological response to bereavement. Typical kinds of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors occur, albeit in a pattern and intensity that vary and evolve over time, whereas in complicated grief, no matter how long they have been grieving, they still cannot come to terms with the death. It affects them more than the average person, which is why it is even more important for them to receive help from a qualified professional.
Moving Forward After a Loss
It is difficult for anyone to move forward after a loss — and it is hard to say how to move forward after a loss, since everyone handles it differently. Any major life event like a loss can take an emotional toll and uproot your day-to-day life. However, you may take some steps to help you move forward more quickly and come to terms with your loss.
Self-care for grief
Loss is painful, but unresolved grief can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other health problems according to Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, P.h.D.
Simply talking to someone you care about can help you cope with your grief. Some people may be embarrassed that they are unable to cope on their own, but it is important to know that your friends, family or even a therapist can help you feel better faster than you might by yourself.
Taking care of yourself is important during grief – and that includes eating and sleeping. A hot bath, exercising, journaling, reading, talking with friends and getting outside are all important things you can do to take care of yourself during your period of grief.
Other coping skills for grief may include:
- Participating in memorials and other services to honor the person who passed.
- Self-expression. Don’t be afraid to express yourself to others. Don’t be embarrassed to cry.
- Talk to others. Even if you don’t feel like talking, start a journal to write down your thoughts.
- Preserve memories by planting a tree or garden, or honor the person in another way — like a charity run or walk.
- ● Join a support group. There are many people that turn to support groups so they do not feel alone with their pain.
Therapy for grief
The way we grieve is determined by a number of factors, such as our relationship with the deceased, religious beliefs and previous experiences with death. For some people, grief can run its course and resolve on its own — but others may need therapy for grief.
You may want to consider therapy for grief if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Suicidal thoughts or unrelenting depression
- Uncontrollable crying
- Loss of appetite
- Problems sleeping
- Panic attacks
- Trouble completing daily tasks
- Intensified longing for your loved one
- Avoided people or places that remind you of the departed
- Addictive behaviors
- Lack of self-care
A therapist can help you work through your grief, no matter how impossible moving on may feel. They will often have you talk about positive memories with your loved one and help you find ways to cope with the pain. It is important to seek a therapist if you are going through complicated grief and suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned above.
When Grief Doesn’t Go Away
Grief may never end. You can read all the stages of grief and expect to keep moving to the next stage, but realize you are not going through this cycle as expected. You may feel like moving on is challenging or even impossible.
Grief doesn’t affect just one person. It affects a group of people. In times like these, it is important to lean on others who may also be struggling from this loss and support one another as you go through the grieving process.
A loss also continues to grow as time passes. As life goes on, it may be hard to realize that the person you lost is not moving on with you. Reminders of this can be hard and bring back the difficult memories of losing someone. It’s important to remember that this experience is normal, and does not necessarily mean you are experiencing complicated grief.
You may never go back to who you were before you lost your loved one. It may have been your other half, your best friend or someone you always turned to. It is difficult to come to terms that that person is no longer in your life. However, if grief is getting in the way of your life for an excessive period of time or causes you distressing symptoms that you cannot cope with on your own, there may be options to seek treatment, such as:
If you are suffering from complicated grief, it is important to see a medical doctor or psychiatrist who may be able to prescribe medicine to help you cope. Medication can help you cope with symptoms of grief such as depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness, and may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or sleeping pills.
There are different treatment facilities that can help you overcome grief if you find yourself struggling. These places have professionals around you all day to help you overcome your grief — allowing you to focus on nothing but finding coping strategies, bonding with others who have experienced grief and speak to therapists who can help you work through this loss.
These spaces are places that encourage healing and hope. The educated and compassionate staff members work tirelessly to ensure that they are providing the best care possible to every person who is struggling with grief.
Many of these facilities have people there to help you understand the grief and loss process. They have experience in the neurobiology of depression and specialize in helping bereaved patients develop new thought processes and behavior that can keep the brain healthy throughout the grief process. These facilities have therapists that help you identify and remove behavioral and attitudinal components that can complicate the grief process.
If you’re struggling to get back to your normal and handle your grieving in a better way, consider taking some time to heal at a residential treatment facility like The Meadowglade. Contact us in order to learn more about how we can help you!