Even though you know death is a part of life, losing a loved one is one of the most difficult events you can experience. Understanding grief and learning how to cope can help you heal and move forward with your life as you honor the person you miss.
Q. What is grief?
Grief is the emotion you feel when you lose someone or something dear to you, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). How long you grieve depends on the closeness of the relationship, the person's presence in your day-to-day life, whether the death was sudden or expected, and the nature of the bond.
Grieving people often experience intense and enduring feelings of disbelief, shock, despair, sadness, and guilt that can be difficult to deal with. Even so, these emotions are appropriate and part of the healing process that will allow you to move on with your life.
Q. Are there stages of grief?
Grief counselors have found many people go through the following five stages of grief:
1. Denial: This can't be happening.
2. Anger: Why is this happening? Who's to blame?
3. Bargaining: Make this not happen, and in return I will do (fill in the blank).
4. Depression: I'm too sad to do anything.
5. Acceptance: I'm at peace with what's happened.
Q. Are there any factors that can help a person heal from grief and loss?
Support from other people who are sensitive and understanding of the loss is one of the most important elements in healing. That support can come from close friends, other family members, the religious community, grief support groups, and psychotherapists or grief counselors, the NIMH says.
Q. What self-care steps or coping skills help support the grieving process?
Taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining your normal routine is important. Resist the urge to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs; doing so can delay recovery and lead to further problems.
Many people also find creating a meaningful memorial in the person's honor to be a positive expression of their grief. For example, fund a scholarship program or give a gift to a charity or aid fund in the person's name.
Finally, be patient with yourself. There's no universal timetable for grief.
Q. What role does mourning play?
Mourning is the public side of grief and varies from culture to culture and among different nationalities. Regardless of the form or rituals performed, mourning seeks to provide people with an accepted way of acknowledging the death of a loved one, saying goodbye in a public ceremony that honors the person, and giving family members ongoing support and sympathy.
Q. When is it appropriate to seek professional help?
Although many expressions of grief are similar to those experienced by people who are depressed, clinical depression is a psychological disorder, and grief is a normal response to loss, the NIMH says.
Grief can lead to depression, however. If your experience with grief is debilitating or you have any thoughts of suicide, contact your doctor or a mental health professional.