The Emotional Suffering of Grief

Brian M. Murray, M.S. IMH

Having to say goodbye to a loved one can be one of the most difficult situations a person is faced with. Grieving can be very difficult for someone who is trying to come to grips with the meaning of the loss and the emotions they are experiencing. Strong attachments to others are not easy to let go of, and grieving loss is not limited to the death of a loved one. Emotional suffering can come due to the loss of something in our lives such as a job, health, a pet, a friend or even experiencing a serious life event that leads to the loss of future dreams. The one common denominator is that loss is experienced through the processing of strong emotions and over a period of time.

Grief is commonly recognized as having 5 stages as introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. As an expert on grief, she explained that these 5 stages are what a person goes through when dealing with loss:

1.      Denial and isolation

2.      Anger

3.      Depression

4.      Bargaining

5.      Acceptance


These stages are not experienced in any specific order except for the 5th and final stage, acceptance. At any time, one stage may become predominant and unless it gets processed through, a person can get stuck or hung up trying to heal through that stage. While there is no time limit for the grieving process, someone who becomes “stuck” in a stage may have difficulty reaching the 5th and final stage of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean a person forgets, but that they have processed through the loss and they can reasonably continue with their life.

Grieving is a normal process that allows a person the chance to heal. Additionally, not all the stages have to be experienced in order to heal. Beyond the 5 stages some physical symptoms may occur as well such as fatigue, nausea and weight loss. Additional feelings such as fear, guilt and sadness are also common.

Awareness of the process of how a person grieves and that emotional suffering is part of the process serves to validate common feelings and helps normalize the experience. So what can a person do to help deal with these feelings? Here are a few suggestions of how a person can begin to work though the grieving process.

·         Get support from family, friends and a support group. Finding a good support group is very beneficial as it helps the person to know they are not alone and not the only one going through this experience. Groups can help offer insight.

·         Turn to faith and God to find reconciliation for the loss through prayer, meditation and practice. Often, getting back into the routine of faith practices can bring a sense of normalcy to daily living.

·         Find a way to articulate thoughts and feelings regarding the loss through artistic expression. This can be done through journal writing, artwork such as drawing, painting and pottery, scrapbooking or some other creative way. The idea is to process through the emotions while conducting the task. Make it unique and make it yours.

·         Take care of your body. Physical activities such as walking, and proper diet can help your body reduce stress. Sleep is important; take measures to get enough rest and sleep. Having a daily routine for daily living can be very beneficial.


Depression: An Area of Special Concern

Suffering a major loss can create a trigger for depression. As previously mentioned, a person can become stuck in their grief, with depression often being the most difficult stage to process through. Someone who is stuck in depression can begin to experience difficulties associated with the depression as well as the whole grieving process. When a person recognizes that they might be struggling with depression, it is important to seek treatment. The sooner they receive treatment, the better the outcome. Do not hesitate to contact a health professional such as a medical doctor or counselor.

There are signs that indicate when depression is worsening and reaching a point where help is needed:

·         Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death or wishing you had died with the loved one. 

·         Difficulty functioning or concentrating at home with family, at work, school or other areas of social involvement.

·         Not wanting to get out of bed and face the day, slow movement, body aches and wanting to isolate. Insomnia may occur as well.

·         Frequent or heavy substance use in order to cope with negative feelings. Using substances often makes the depression worse.

·         Strong sense of guilt or self blame for the loss, feeling hopeless and/or worthless.

·         Sudden onset and rapid changes in weight - putting on or losing.

Suffering and grief do not have to be endured alone. Seek professional help, support groups, family and friends to help get through the process. Leaving major depression untreated can also lead to other health problems so it is important to get proper treatment as soon as possible.

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