Bereavement and Loss
There are different ways of looking at loss, I see them as five stages, with different intensity of severity in terms of the relationship we have with the person who has died.
When a loved one, friend, pet etc. dies we can feel a sense of hopelessness. It can make us stand back and take stock of our own mortality and the mortality of loved ones that are still alive. When this happens we may have intrusive thoughts and feelings as a result we may have panic attacks and anxiety.
For those who have terminal illness, the stages can feel like they are in an out at a speed through the stages. They may have intrusive thoughts like, if I am going to leave this world I am going to leave on my terms. These type of thoughts can be overwhelming for them and come in waves of emotions. It is important that they have the right support from a specialist who deals with Palliative care.
It is important to remember when you get intrusive thoughts to reach out to someone to talk to or try strategies that will help you to regulate your emotions. It may help to focus on a plan of what you would like to do with your loved ones around you. It is important to spend your last weeks, months or years doing the things you would like to do, and remember there may be times when you feel exhausted or demotivated, when this happens remember ‘be kind to yourself’ and do the things that you want to do.
If we look at the 5 stages more closely, you can see loss is a process in which we can go in and out of the stages of grief as there is no set protocol. If you look at the diagram I have made, each person is different in how they grieve hence we can change from anger to depression first before going any of through the other stages.
If you look at the diagram of the stages of grief, If you have ever experienced grief can you see any of the stages that you went through, which was your first? Can you see your process. I use this diagram with children, young people and adults, it is a good resource for exploring our own process of grief and loss.
Lets break down the stages, remember the stages of grief not only cover grieving for a loved one, they can also be present for example if a relationship breaks down, moving schools, moving away etc.
Stages of Grief
Denial, this includes shock, can’t believe it, why me! Feeling numb, feeling nothing etc. denial is almost like disassociation from the event. The event is so painful we can’t except it or don’t want to except it. There is not set time as to how long we would stay in this stage, we can fluctuate between this and others then come back to this.
We may feel like we cannot except what has happened. This is okay, don't be hard on yourself this is all part of the process of grief and loss.
Anger, When a loved one dies or a relationship breakdown etc, we can be filled with rage and sometimes we can take our anger out on the people around us. Our anger can be so intense we may feel out of control, say things that we don’t really mean and do things that we would not usually do. If we are not used to regulating our feelings it can be difficult in terms of understanding triggers and our feeling in our body.
If you are struggling with this stage and it is beginning to have an effect on your mental health, it is important to get the right support, talking to friends and family is a good start. Don’t be alone with your anger, as behind anger there is hurt. Anger can consume us and the amount of adrenalin and cortisol can make us feel exhausted afterwards. So as I have discussed in my other blogs, try to become more aware of where your anger starts and what triggers it. Remember, once you start to feel the anger its time to use strategies to help you regulate it.
Bargaining, This stage of grief can make us feel an urgency in terms of us wanting our love one who has died to come back. I remember when my mother died, saying please let my mother have few years more and I will gladly give 10 years of my own life. For children, when their parents have split up. Sometimes they may say, “please don’t leave I will be good”. We become so desperate to keep our loved ones here that we ask for impossible things. It is like we become irrational because our stress and anxiety are very high.
Depression, Unfortunately for some we can stay in this stage for some time, again this depends of the quality/closeness of the relationship with the person who has died or left. If you think about the amount of adrenalin and cortisol that the brain makes when we feel, anxious / angry etc. When we have these hormones regularly released in our brain it blocks any ‘good feeling hormones’ from being released and as a result of this we feel low or have depression traits.
In this stage we feel a sense of hopelessness, we may feel like giving up, lose interest, struggle to get up in the morning or be motivated. This includes can’t being bothered to talk to friends and family even look after ourselves in terms of personal care. In some cases, the person grieving may take to drinking as a way of coping or use drugs. However, you may be aware that both drugs and alcohol are both depressants and can make things feel worse. If you seem to be in this stage for sometimes or you feel like you in and out of this stage, I would always suggest talking to your GP.
Acceptance, When we get to this stage we may feel like we have been through a whirlwind of emotions. However, we now except the changes and start to feel less guilty for smiling again. It is okay to feel happy with the other things in your life. If we think about it, change is inevitable in anything in life. For example, the seasons change from spring, summer, autumn then winter. All the trees and animals in our beautiful world go through the same changes as we do. Plants start off as a seed then grow slowly until they are fully grown, then they get older and change with the seasons. We are in a world of continual change, In the acceptance stage we may start to feel like we can start enjoying life again.
Unfortunately change is inevitable, we live in an ever changing world. We can help the process of loss by being kind to ourselves, remember we may go through stages in a different way than another person. We all grieve differently and this is okay. Sometimes when someone we love dies we can go in to what I call the ‘robotics’ this is where we steam ahead, get on with things and keep ourselves busy. This may be due to the immense sadness, so we focus on what is needed to be done. Once everything is completed, we crumble and fall apart almost. Grief can be such a complicated process. This is why we need to do what we need to do, to look after ourselves.
I hope that when you have read this blog, you feel like you have be given more insight in to bereavement and loss. As I have discussed in my previous blogs, it is important to recognise where our feelings start in out body and if they are negative feelings or intrusive thoughts. This is where we can use the strategies that I have spoken about.
Remember, when we reflect on the loss of our loved ones. Think of all the positive times that we have shared with them. Celebrate them in terms of the impact on our lives they had. Always listen to your body and mind, be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
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