I could not shed a tear,” remembers Mary after the loss of her father. She adds, “Yet I was inconsolable for weeks after my dog died a year later, even though I knew that she was old and sick. I often feel so confused and guilty.”
Losing someone or something and the bereavement that follows happens to everyone at some point in their lives. Everyone grieves in different ways and for different periods of time. There is no timeline for getting over the loss of someone or something that is cherished.
Stages of grief
Renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who studied terminal illnesses, identified five different stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages help us to name and understand how a grieving individual is able to express their feelings. They are not linear steps and can be experienced differently by different people. Other research models illustrate similar concepts.
Experiencing grief during special occasions like holidays, birthdays or anniversaries can be especially challenging. Some can feel crippling despair, while others are emotionally desensitized. The pandemic has also caused many sudden losses resulting in feelings of anger and rage because of the unique circumstances of isolation and lack of closure. Experiencing a roller coaster of emotions is a natural response to any loss.
Grief is universal
Everyone who goes through a loss will experience grief. “Mourning can last for months or years. Generally, pain is tempered as time passes and as the bereaved adapts to life without a loved one,” says Mayo Clinic. But, “If you’re uncertain about whether your grieving process is normal, consult your health care professional.” There are resources that can help people move through the grieving process.
“First of all, we cannot compare our grief,” emphasizes Heidi Smith, director of the Center for Grief Education and Support at Seasons Hospice. She states, “There are so many layers to grief, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Loss truly takes a piece of our heart.” Smith also points out that it is important to communicate with others about our grief. Support groups, counselors, faith communities and other services can help in the recovery process. It is essential to ask for help.
Time does not heal all wounds
After many personal tragedies, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy famously said, “It has been said, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
Jane remembers, after suddenly losing her husband in a car accident, that she was numb and in shock. It took about two years to finally accept what had happened. “I started scheduling certain hours to grieve,” she says. “I gave myself a specific time to heal, but then I knew I had to keep going for my children.” Now, 16 years after his death which occurred on their 16th wedding anniversary, Jane honors his memory with loving tributes and still allows herself time to grieve.
Grief is a necessary and important process that can last a lifetime. However, through mourning, people learn to adjust and rebuild. Being kind and compassionate, to oneself and with others, are important ways to cope. “Grief is the price we pay for love,” Queen Elizabeth II said during a condolence speech for the families of the victims of 9/11. Finding “good” aspects of grief can occur with planning, validation and support.
Dedicated to my loving Sandy, a beautiful soul ( – ) ::
- Seasons Hospice seasonshospice.org • 507-285-1930
- Mayo Clinic Hospice mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/hospice/sections/overview/ovc-20481745 • 507-284-4002
- “Journeying through Grief” by Kenneth C. Haugk
- “Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief” by Joanne Cacciatore
- “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand” by Megan Devine
- “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande