Grief and Loss

Losing someone you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. The natural human response to loss is grief. Grief can also occur when you have lost something important – like a special relationship or your job. Most people experience a range of emotions as they struggle to cope with what they have lost. Many of us feel overwhelmed.

Everyone experiences grief differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. As you go through the grieving process, you can learn to cope with the pain and move forward. This is especially true if you have an understanding of the emotions you can expect to feel during this difficult time.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

Mental health professionals have identified five common stages of the grieving process. Not everyone processes grief in the same way, but it’s typical to experience all of the following:

  • Denial: Immediately following a significant loss, many of us are in denial. The loss doesn’t seem possible. Life isn’t making sense. You may feel numb. Doctors believe this denial stage is a natural defense mechanism that helps us handle only what we can bear at first.
  • Anger: As denial fades and the reality begins to set in, most people experience anger. Anger is an important part of the healing process. You may feel angry at others, at family members, or at a higher power. It’s also normal to feel angry with the person you have lost.
  • Bargaining: During this stage, many of us want to roll back the clock. We seek answers about what we might have done differently and how we might have prevented the loss from occurring. During the bargaining phase, people ask a lot of “What if… ?” questions and focus on the concept of “If only I had …” to try to make sense of what happened or might have played out  differently.
  • Depression: During the fourth stage of the grieving process, we feel profound sadness and emptiness. As depression sets in, we may withdraw from others. Many of us have trouble sleeping, eating or finding comfort in the world around us. Depression is a normal reaction to an immense loss.
  • Acceptance: During this final stage of the grieving process, you begin to accept the reality of your loss. You do not “accept” the loss, but you accept that it has happened and that this is the new norm. During the acceptance stage, we realize that, although life has changed permanently, we are beginning to adjust to our new reality.

These stages provide a framework for understanding how we will experience and work through a significant loss. The grieving process is different for everyone and is not linear. You may move ahead to one stage, only to return the next day or week to an earlier stage. Your own experience is unique, but the five stages give us an understanding of what to expect as we learn to cope with a major loss and move on with our lives.

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