Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone or something that’s important to you. Usually, it is associated with the death of a loved one. However, there are other losses in life that can trigger grief as well, such as the loss of a job, a home, a marriage, a friend, a pet, a treasure, or even a shattered dream.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler (On Grief and Grieving)
Not everyone grieves the same way. The grieving process is complicated and personal. It includes a variety of emotional experiences that can affect your physical health as well, such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, or even an inability to think straight. Your pain is unique to you, and so is the time it may take for you to work your way through it.
Following are some common phases people go through during the grieving process. You may or may not experience them all, or necessarily in this order, and you may even go back and forth between some of them before making it to the end. That’s because the grieving process is not a linear one. It tends to be more of a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs, good days and bad.
Common phases of the grieving process
Shock, denial, and disbelief. The first phase of the grieving process is usually shock and disbelief, especially if the loss was sudden and unexpected. During this phase, you may feel numb and overwhelmed, and as you try to absorb what happened and make sense of it, your mind may try to deny the truth leading you. For instance, you may expect a loved one who has died to walk through the door, even though you know he or she is gone.
Guilt and regret. Once the initial shock wears off, you may start having feelings of guilt or regret about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may wish you could turn back the clock and do them differently so that the loss could perhaps have been prevented from happening.
Yearning. During this phase, your mind is absorbed by thoughts of your loved one, and you look for ways you can feel connected to them. You may try to relive memories by doing things such as looking through photo albums, reading letters they sent you or listening to a favorite song you shared.
Anger. As you try to adjust to your new reality, you are likely to experience many intense emotions. Anger is often one of the first ones to be expressed. You may be angry at God, at circumstances, at other people, at yourself, or even at the person who died for abandoning you and leaving you alone.
Depression. Once you fully grasp the reality of your situation, your feelings of loss may intensify. You may cry a lot, sigh a lot, and retreat into yourself rather than reach out to others. You may also sleep a lot and have little energy to do even the simplest of daily chores. This can be a time of isolation and loneliness.
Fear. You may feel anxious or insecure about the future, about the responsibilities you will now have to face alone, or about how you will manage financially. You may even have fears about your own mortality.
Acceptance. In this phase, you start accepting the ‘new normal,’ reconnecting with others and beginning to live life again. You may still feel sadness and the pain of your loss, but you are no longer resisting the reality of it.
Growth. You may come through the grieving process with new strengths and a new direction, as well as increased compassion and sensitivity resulting from the pain you have suffered. This could lead to a desire to find meaning in your loss through getting involved in a special cause or project.
Myths about the grieving process
If you don’t cry it means you’re not grieving over your loss. Crying is not the only response to grief. Everyone has their own unique way of expressing their emotions. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as anyone else does, but they just show it in a different way.
The pain will go away faster if you ignore it. Trying to ignore your pain will only make it worse in the long run. The pain does not go away. If you try to stuff it, it may show up in an unrecognizable and possibly destructive way down the road. In order to heal from your grief, you need to acknowledge it and work your way through all the emotions it triggers.
Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss. Moving on does not mean forgetting. It only means you have accepted your loss. The memories will stay with you forever.
Embracing your grief
- Acknowledge and express your pain. Trying to stifle your feelings will prevent healing, and only make them that much stronger when they get triggered by something later on.
- Don’t isolate. Seek comfort from people who care about you and who are willing to listen. Talk to them about your grief, and share your memories and sorrow with them.
- Find creative ways to express your feelings, such as through music, art, or journaling.
- Find at least one thing to do every day that brings you joy.
- Don’t neglect your physical needs. The grieving process can be exhausting and take a toll on your body. Eating nourishing foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep are all important parts of the healing process.
- Don’t feel guilty about having happy moments or laughing. Feeling joy is not an indication that you love or miss the person you are grieving for any less. The Bible tells us that laughter is good medicine for your body and soul (Proverbs 17:22a).
- Prepare in advance for days such as anniversaries, holidays, and other dates that bring back painful memories and magnify your feelings of loss. Arrange to be with friends or family members, plan special activities to mark the anniversary and try to balance sorrow for their death with a celebration of their life. You can be thankful for what you had as well as grieve for what you’ve lost. Control the day, rather than let the day control you.
- Joining a bereavement support group such as GriefShare where you can share your thoughts and feelings with others who have also experienced loss can be comforting and reassuring. It can also help you put your feelings in perspective, and lessen your feeling of being alone.
- Turn to God, and draw comfort from His Word.
Christian grief counseling
Christian grief counseling involves a combination of biblical principles and clinical intervention. If you have questions, or would like to set up an appointment, please get in touch with me or one of the other counselors in our online directory today.
We would be happy to meet with you to discuss methods and techniques for coping with your grief in a healthy manner, as well as help you find peace, hope, and healing along the way. You don’t have to go it alone.
Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP (February 12, 2021). The Five Stages of Grief, Verywell Mind.org.
Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. (October 2021). Coping with Grief and Loss, HelpGuide.org.
NIH News in Health (October 2017). Coping With Grief.
“Tears”, Courtesy of Luis Galvez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chair”, Courtesy of Frederik Lower, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Paola Chaaya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Raining again…”, Courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License