Today’s article is part 1 of 2 which will be looking at the topic of grief and loss.
Bereavement is a universal human experience that ranges from the loss of a pet to the loss of a loved family member. Grief is the complex and visceral set of feelings that occur in response to any particular loss in one’s life. William Worden observed and studied the complex human grief response and formulated 4 key stages that people go through when having experienced a bereavement of any kind. These stages are not considered to be a linear journey whereby once you “complete” one you progress to the next never to return to the previous stages. Grief is much more complex than that and is therefore considered to be a non-linear process that changes over time.
The first stage is accepting the reality of the loss/change. This stage is often initiated by rituals such as wakes or funerals for those who have passed or graduation ceremonies for those who finish school or university. A supportive environment, friends, and family who you can speak with can also help to aid you in coming to terms with the loss in your life. Depending how the loss occurred can also contribute to the degree of shock and disbelief one can feel in the initial stages of learning of the loss. These feelings of shock and disbelief are normal and expected responses even if the loss was expected.
People in overwhelming and excruciating psychological pain can sometimes find themselves denying the reality of the loss. However, this often causes a deep undercurrent of powerful emotions trapped deep within the soul begging to be acknowledged. Once there has been some degree of acceptance, the stage of processing the pain of the loss arises.
The second stage is processing the loss/change. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said that “Grief is like a fingerprint, it’s unique to everyone, and so is the way you process it”. Just like we cannot avoid our feelings we cannot avoid the feeling of grief. Some people choose to suppress their grief and refuse its expression however as Dr Chris Bowden lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington says grief will express itself in your life in one way or another. Furthermore, Dr Gabor Mate in his book “When the Body Says No” talks in-depth about how high levels of psychological stress can negatively impact not only the psychological well-being but also one’s physical health.
It takes courage and skill to allow yourself to be with what can sometimes be an overwhelming feeling of grief. The key here is to be with. To acknowledge, to connect and allow the grief the space and place for some type of expression. It is important to remember that not everyone will experience the same level of intensity of grief toward a particular loss, there are many factors that can contribute to the level of intensity that one feels. Important factors can range from the person’s age and gender, coping style, attachment type, cultural and spiritual beliefs and one’s support network.