At some stage or another during your time here on earth you will be faced with grief. It is unavoidable and can hit you when you are least prepared. In the many times I have been involved with counseling people I always hear them say, “If only we had more time or a warning.” If you do have a warning or time to deal with it, there are still many stages that you have to pass through. People mourn in different ways and at different times, yet there are recognized stages of grief. Not everyone will experience them all, but the following are the most common.
SHOCK. This can also be expressed as denial. You don’t want to believe what has happened. You try to block it out and sometimes it can take months before the shock wears off. When you are in shock you may suffer from physical symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, headaches and lack of concentration. Your body is also subjected to stress, which can in itself bring on other problems.
SEARCHING. It is common when you lose something you subconsciously want to look for it. Many pets pine for their owners when they are away and often try to go and look for them. So do many of us search for those who have died? We go to the places they used to take us to. We think we see their face in a crowd or we imagine we can hear them or smell their favourite perfume.
Subconsciously we know what we are doing is crazy, yet we are driven to do it.
ANGER. Anger and resentment are common. Although we may not even care to admit it, we are angry with the person for dying.
Some of the questions people have asked me, especially in the case of accidents. ‘Why did they do it?’ ‘What do you think really happened?’ ‘What made them take that road? They never go that way!’ When you are an adult, you like to be in control of a situation, but this is one you didn’t plan and it angers you. God also gets the blame for taking the person away. I can remember my father-in-law going out onto the lawn one night and shaking his fist up in the air and screaming ‘why did you take her God?'
DEPRESSION. Depression is a normal reaction to loss. Death in itself is such a huge loss that it is not surprising we get depressed.
Sadness is linked to all the reactions but when linked with depression it can last for years. Bouts of crying, lack of sleep and lack of interest in what is happening around us are all signs of depression. Sometimes it is necessary to seek medical help to get through this stage.
ACCEPTANCE. Finally we reach the stage of acceptance. This is the saddest stage of all. It is now when you realize the person has gone for good. Yet people always have the happy memories of the one they have lost. Perhaps a photograph or hearing a particular song will bring back pangs of sadness but you can still remember and be glad of the memories.
From personal experience, there were times when I skipped a stage of grief, yet even if it were many years later, I went through it. When my maternal grandmother died many years ago, I was young and immature. I just blocked her death out of my mind. Only four years later when talking it through with my mum, could I really mourn for her. My own father and I didn’t have the best of relationships, and when he died unexpectedly from a massive thrombosis I was furious with him. I was also pregnant with my second daughter and couldn’t take any form of medication to help with the shock. I allowed my anger to consume me and took it out on all those closest and dearest to me. It took months of counseling before I was able to deal with it.
My mother’s death was so different. We were well prepared, as she had been diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis five years previously. Initially when I learnt of the nature of her illness, I went into shock. I wouldn’t accept it was happening to her and just believed things would sort themselves out. I hoped the doctor was wrong. Anger followed and then depression and sadness. Luckily through my Christian experience as a counsellor in our church, I was able to deal with each stage. I allowed it to happen and to run its course. The doctor wasn’t wrong and never had been. It was only wishful thinking on my part.
Watching an elegant attractive woman succumb to this disease is not something I would wish for anybody. Yet I was able to be there for her. My three daughters were told how serious it was immediately I knew she was ill. My youngest who was twelve, and who adored her grandmother said, “Not Gran mum, she’s too smart for that!”
Such was her faith in this wonderful granny of hers. We as a family grew closer during the time of her illness. I could vent my feelings openly with the three girls, cry with them and get it out of my system before facing mum with calmness.
My mother’s final days were spent surrounded by the family she loved most. Acceptance has been easier as we were able to talk through so many issues before she left us. Grief is never easy, yet the pain is softened when you know how to deal with it and move on.
The person who has left you is only gone for a season. As Christian we know we shall one day be reunited with her and those gone before us.
“The experience of grief is a great gift….for the heart that breaks is just opening up again.” Sharon Callahan