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Good Grief!

Grieving is a part of life and is necessary for accepting the inevitable losses which occur during the typical life cycle of most people. When attachments are formed with family members, friends, spouses, homes, jobs, we will eventually have to let go of that person or thing. Choosing to let go represents the ultimate pain of grief. It is not surprising that grief is denied by most until we are confronted head-on with a loss of our own. Research in the area of bereavement indicates that the grief process comprises a series of phases. As the grieving person goes through each phase, he or she develops coping skills and may eventually reach acceptance of the loss. Each person experiencing the grief process moves through each stage at their own pace and sometimes returns to earlier stages during times of stress or extreme fatigue. Sometimes individuals get stuck at a certain stage and may need professional counseling to assist in completing the process. Developing an awareness of the five stages of bereavement may assist you in coping with your own loss or in providing support to significant others who have experienced a recent loss.

The stages of grief are generally described as follows:

Denial and Shock: Since most significant losses are unexpected and sometimes emotionally overwhelming, there is a strong tendency to experience shock, disbelief and denial. These feelings function as a buffer that permit the bereaved person to process the reality of the loss gradually. Without this protection, the emotional assault experienced in the early stages of grief would be too intense to bear. While the bereaved are not thinking of anything but how and why the loss happened, denial and disbelief offer a short temporary retreat from the awful reality of the loss. This phase can last from a few minutes to many days, but it usually passes to the second stage of grief.

Anger and Guilt: Once the bereaved person grasps the reality of the loss, frustration, helplessness, and deprivation all create feelings of anger and hostility, which are often directed toward others. In many situations, the bereaved person feels anger at being left to handle everything alone. Guilt also plays a large part in most losses. This guilt may be a memory of something that should have been done or a persisting feeling of guilt that may stem from regret associated with a lifetime of rejection or other hurts. When a person is stuck at this stage, professional counseling can assist the individual in coping with these feelings in an appropriate manner. Counseling can provide the opportunity for the individual to properly ventilate these feelings within the therapeutic relationship and can assist the individual in directing anger or guilt toward some purposeful goal.

Withdrawal and Despair: This phase may be experienced by many as the worst period of the entire grief process. It is a time of withdrawing from others, of feeling the need to be alone, and feeling helpless. At this phase many individuals may experience depression and seek professional help. Despair is experienced at this stage since all the crying, yearning, and searching of the previous phase have failed to regain the loved person or object. As the sense of despair grows, exhaustion takes over the mind and body. This is a time of turning inward, of reviewing both the loss, and the impact it may have in the present as well as in the future. It is a time of coming to grips with the finality of the loss. At this stage individuals are often fatigued and need more sleep than usual. Because of the considerable stress experienced at this phase, the bereaved individual may be more prone toward physical and emotional illnesses. In order to move on from this stage, the individual must restructure their identity and life to adapt to changes created by the loss. When the individual demonstrates the ability to turn their attention to looking and planning ahead for the future, the next phase of the process has been reached.

Healing and Hope: Since experiencing a major loss is for many like experiencing a major wound, the healing phase is the most important stage in resolving grief. This is the stage when the individual learns to accept the loss both emotionally and intellectually so that he or she may rebuild their life. This stage consists of forgiving, forgetting, and gaining a sense of control over one's life. During this phase, the individual makes plans for the future despite the loss and as a consequence experiences the first glimmer of hope since experiencing the loss. When the bereaved can look ahead to the future, the final phase of grief is reached.

Renewal and Acceptance: After the bereaved individual has come to grips with the loss, developed new coping skills and has set about to replace the loss with substitutes, he or she moves on to the final phase - renewal. At this phase the individual resumes their life at a new level of functioning. When this level is reached, the individual appears markedly improved and well on the way to a new life which they have worked to obtained. This is not to say that the individual is the same person as before the loss but in this phase of the loss, the pain, for the most part, is gone.

We will all experience the grief process at some point in our lives. Understanding its purpose and importance may assist in the completion of each stage, and, as well, may foster personal growth. The general information presented here is not intended to replace the advice of your physician. If you have questions or would like more information on this topic, please contact your physician.

NOTE: I cannot take credit for this page. If you find it here and it's your own research, please let me know and I will give credit where credit is due or if you should so wish, I will remove it.

Madrigal Moonchild

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