The deep sadness of grief can be one of the most gripping emotions we face as human beings. Losing a loved one, or friend, or pet, or a colleague, can leave us feeling devastated, heartbroken, confused, and angry. Grief can also call forth the resilience and fortitude of the human spirit.
- Bereavement is the general stage of being that results from having experienced a significant loss.
- Grief refers to the emotional and cognitive processes we go through to regain our equilibrium after a loss. Grief is a natural response to loss in the course of our human lives.
Years ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross offered a five-stage model of grief in her seminal work, On Death and Dying (1969), that grew out of her work with dying patients. Over the years, her model has been applied to those grieving the death of someone else. While the stages of her model are not necessarily linear, they offer a possible map of some of the emotional signposts we might experience when journeying through grief.
- According to Kubler-Ross’s model, we might feel a sense of denial and think, “This can’t be happening to me.”
- We can feel anger at why this is happening at all.
- At some point, if someone we know is dying or we are dying ourselves, we try to make a bargain, that we will change or do something to make this not happen.
- Depression can be a part of grieving.
- Acceptance is the act of being at peace with what has happened.
It is the power of acceptance and “moving on” that we hope is the end result of the grieving process. There is no right amount of time that this process takes, though I have learned from experience that grief cannot be indefinitely delayed. A counsellor friend of mine once said to me, “Grief is like a bank loan: you either pay now or you pay later with interest.”
Given that grieving is an important part of healing and recovering after a loss, what helps bring comfort during such times?
1. Acknowledge how you are feeling.
Suppressing our emotions during times of grief and loss can actually diminish our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Acknowledging our loss and allowing the emotional responses to it are critical parts of the healing journey.
While it might feel overwhelming to feel your feelings – to talk about how you are feeling – ignoring the real pain associated with loss and not letting it surface can have less-desired consequences in the long run. We can’t heal what we don’t acknowledge. It can take time, courage, and support to process the many emotions that grief brings over time. This experience of grief can trigger so many different emotions, and the marking of anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays can be particularly difficult.
2. Seek support.
Sometimes when we are grieving we feel numb, and being in the company of others can feel tiring and too much. Yet having the support of people who care about us is important and can be a great source of comfort when we are grieving. We are reminded that it is okay to lean on our dear friends and family. It can be very healing and comforting to be in the presence of others who loved the lost individual too.
Support can come from many sources – friends, family, and pets can offer support with their loving presence. A friend of mine recently shared the story of how her dog intuitively knew she had suffered a loss and stayed “stuck like glue” by her side for three weeks. Inspiring words and cards and messages of care can be supportive. Time in nature can soothe our grieving hearts. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to who and what might be supportive during times of grief. What’s most important is that we seek out and allow support to surround us in many ways.
3. Engage in life-affirming and soothing activities.
Living life can help us grieve. When you feel ready, returning to hobbies and habits – from book clubs to lunch dates to yoga classes – can help restore some emotional balance.
Connecting to the body can be a way to find comfort during times of grief – sitting and being held quietly, getting a massage, any form of healing touch can ground us in our physical body. Grief moves through your whole self – body, mind, heart, and spirit. Being self-compassionate during times of grief allows your whole self to heal and move forward.
Grief asks a lot of us. It can begin even before the person we love dies, if they are sick and we know the end is near – anticipatory grief can begin and continue until after the loss. Time can pass, even years, and all of a sudden we will hear a song that reminds us of the person who is no longer with us in this world and the memories come washing over us, bringing grief to the fore again for a moment, a day, and longer.
People often offer messages of sympathy and intended comfort after losses. It is considerate to keep in mind that there are some common words often voiced after someone dies – things like, “They are in a better place,” “It was God’s will” and the like. I have witnessed many people grieve and walked this path myself many times in my life so far. In my experience, while well-intentioned, these sorts of comments bring little comfort in the immediate aftermath of a loss. A simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” acknowledges the person and their experience without bringing a belief system into the comments – which may or may not resonate for that person who is suffering and grieving.
Pause and reflect:
What brings you comfort after the loss of a loved one? How can you honour your needs during times of grief?
Grieving and loss are part of our individual and collective human experience. They are fundamental aspects of being alive.
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