Coping with Trauma

Grief and Loss

What is Grief?

Grief is intense distress caused by a significant loss, often the death of a loved one. Other life events like the loss of a job, the loss of one's home, the death of a pet, children leaving home, or divorce and separation may also cause you to feel grief. Bereavement is the period of mourning following such a loss.  The grief process may involve a combination of feelings, such as sadness, numbness, guilt, anger or regret and will change gradually over time into an acceptance of the loss.

Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one and may cause a person to have symptoms similar to depression. Feeling sadness is a normal part of the grief process however unresolved grief may lead to depression. Each person will experience a different grieving process, especially if the loss is unexpected, and the amount of time it takes for a person to recover from a loss varies widely.

Grief is considered resolved when the person is able to proceed with new goals in their life, enjoy the pleasures of daily life, look forward to things in the future and is no longer overcome by sadness when thinking about the loss.   

Common symptoms of grief include:

  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

There may also be moments of relief, peace and happiness.

Four Stages of Grief


Although each person has their own individual experience of grief, there are four recognizable stages that are often part of the recovery process.  The length of time for each stage and the order in which they occur can vary.

The four typical stages of grief are:

  • Shock
  • Suffering
  • Adjustment
  • Moving Forward

Shock

When a person learns of the loss of a loved one, they are naturally protected by a numbness, or lack of feeling, that does not allow them to experience all of their grief at once.  This is a valuable survival instinct.  It may include a stage of denial or disbelief, the inability to even recognize that the loved one is dead.  There may also be a time when the sufferer may wonder if they can continue with daily life, or they may question whether or not they want to keep on living.  Life may not seem to have any meaning or clarity when someone first learns of a death, especially if it is unexpected.

Suffering

The pain of grief can manifest in many different ways and generally unfolds at the speed that can be handled by the sufferer.  After the initial shock of learning of a loss, a person can go through the symptoms of a minor depression. These may include sorrow, fatigue, apathy and yearning for the return of the loved one. During this stage, there may also be withdrawal, not participating in activities that the person once enjoyed. By withdrawing, the grieving person may feel even more isolated and alone.

Anger may also occur at this stage, directed in one of many ways: at the lost loved one, at life in general, at oneself or even a family member or friend. It may be difficult for the sufferer to express themselves clearly when they are overcome with anger and pain regarding their loss. They may feel out of control and helpless to manage the situation.

Adjustment

Once the reality of the loss starts to sink in and the grieving person starts to accept that their life has permanently changed, the adjustment stage can begin. During this stage, the griever may need to take over or replace some of the role of the loved one who has been lost.  They may also begin to redefine their own identity, taking into account their new reality.

Moving Forward

When grief begins to lessen and the sufferer’s ability to return to normal life, they can move forward. In this final stage of healing, new relationships can be built. The outlook for the future begins to be positive and the griever’s ability to reach out to others will increase. At this stage, a person can take better care of themselves as well as add new friendships and activities to their life.


Knowing that each situation must be treated individually, one or more of the following options could help the grieving process and each should be explored carefully.

Recovery and Treatment Options

Psychotherapy

“Talk” therapy consists of a patient building a personal relationship with a therapist who listens without judgment and communicates acceptance to the patient. A therapist can help a patient understand their grief and how to live with it productively. A therapist can also encourage a patient to work through their emotional blocks and move forward with their life.

The grieving process may require professional help if you are extremely preoccupied with the death of a loved one and can not function in daily life due to the loss.

Medication

There is no prescribed medication for grief, but a sufferer may benefit from anti-depressants. Each case is different and must be handled individually with proper medical supervision. Working with a doctor can help a patient find the right solution for their individual needs.

Taking Care of Yourself

Other healthy practices that may help you heal in a time of grief are:

  • Healthy eating habits: Eat less refined sugar and more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing caffeine consumption
  • Avoiding nicotine
  • Regular exercise: Just 30 minutes a day will naturally reduce stress by naturally releasing endorphins, which increases feeling of well-being.
  • Getting enough sleep: Being well rested can help you cope during a difficult time.
  • Throughout the grieving process, it is important to stay connected to your friends. Spending time by yourself can make you feel worse. Friends can offer support, if only just to let you express how you feel and remind you that you are not alone.
  • Learning new things. You may need to acquire new skills to take over the role of your loved one. In any case, taking a class at a community college or learning center can help you make new social connections and feel more positive about the future.