Stages of grieving and process of healing

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By Sam George
Last week we began a new series on grieving. We briefly looked at what grief is and why it is important that we work through losses since it is not automatic. Losses are unavoidable in life, but how we handle the emotions that surface from the loss will determine our future emotional and spiritual health.

The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. The death of a spouse, child, or parent can be an extremely painful experience. However, even subtle losses can lead to grief. For example, you might experience grief after moving away from home, graduating from college, changing jobs, selling your family home, or retiring from a career you loved.

After a significant loss, you may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt.  Sometimes it may feel like the sadness will never let up. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing.

Mental health professionals have come up with five stages of grieving. They are (a) Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.” (b) Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?” (c) Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.” (d) Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.” e) Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried, and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.

However, not everyone, who is grieving, goes through all of these stages and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

These stages are only a practical way to analyze emotions arising as a result of some form of loss. It is nearly impossible to put grieving experiences in any tidy categories or expect a grieving person to go through stages in that order. There is no typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.

The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.

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