WHEN DOES GRIEF BEGIN AND WHEN WILL IT END?
Although it would be easier if this wasn’t the case, grief really does not have a clear beginning or end. When the big loss comes, the feelings come in waves, with floods of emotions (sadness, numbness, anger, relief, and love to name a few). The term “Grief” is simply a description of all of the feelings surrounding your loss. Grief will ebb and flow throughout our life after. Grief can actually begin before the death of your loved one.
“Anticipatory grief” is when we know someone will pass away soon and we start to mentally prepare. You begin to live in two worlds; the present moment and the moment after death. You may unconsciously be preparing to feel this loss, and this can even manifest in a feeling of heaviness in your body, or like you are holding your breath in anxiety, every phone call making you jump. This stage of grief is often more silent than grief after loss, it’s something we keep to ourselves. There really aren’t any encompassing words for anticipatory grief, it’s more of a feeling.
Comfort may be felt by the touch of a hand or just silently sitting with a friend. Even after the anticipated loss has come and you are past the immediate aftermath, when you have grieved for a long time, you won’t ever fully “get over” the loss of someone. You’ll learn to live with the feelings, and those feelings will change over time. Memories may begin to bring up warmer feelings of love, and those pings of sadness will be less intense. Talking about your loss will become easier, or at least possible. There is no consistent amount of time for this process to happen though, grief takes as long as it needs to.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF AND HOW THEY WORK
The stages of grief is something that was introduced to the world in the 1969 book On Death and Dying by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She came up with the model to provide a way for people to help frame and identify what they may be feeling during grief. The stages have evolved since their introduction. This framework for grief was never meant to hide messy emotions into tidy packages.
They are a collection of common responses to loss that people experience, but our grief is as individual as our lives and so there will always be variations on the different stages of grief that you go through. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These five stages aren’t linear, you don’t automatically go from one to the next at any consistent speed and you may not even experience all of the stages (and that does not mean you aren’t properly grieving).
People do often begin grief with denial, but denial doesn’t mean that you’re denying that someone has passed away, it can be a feeling of numbness, feeling a bit out of touch with any strong feelings. Your brain may do this to cushion you from being overwhelmed with too many emotions at once. The next stage may be anger, or it could just as easily be depression.
HOW TO RETURN TO WORK AND LIFE WHEN GRIEVING
Society and financial situations can place massive pressure on a person to “get over ” or “move on” from a loss, to somehow power through the grief. But how long do you grieve for your best friend of twenty years? A grandmother passing away behind closed doors in a long term care home? Your toddler? There simply is no set amount of time, but chances are recovering from a significant loss will take far longer than the average amount of time that people are able to take off from work.
What can you do to manage? Lower your expectations, and commitments wherever possible. At work, if you are able to reduce your workload at all, do so, if coworkers offer support, accept it and delegate tasks to them. For home, if a friend or family member asks how they can help, tell them to bring you ready-made food rather than flowers, ask them to help with housework or yard work. If you are on your own (or are a single parent with young children) prioritize what HAS to get done (filling the dishwasher – laundry) vs what can be set aside till later (vacuuming, mowing the lawn).
Take time as often as you can (daily is ideal, but if all you can do is weekly, do it then) to think about your loss, to feel the emotions, but in a way that is cathartic. For some that may be in writing, if it was the loss of a wanted pregnancy, you may want to write a letter to the child you have lost. If you’re more of a physical person, you could walk in an area that your dearly departed would have appreciated, and think about them during those moments. Other ways of feeling and remembering are to listen to music to remind you of the person or pet that you’ve lost. Speaking with close friends or family who are also grieving the loss can help as well.
GETTING MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT TO HELP WITH GRIEF
Your own grief story may be uniquely yours, but you do not have to be or feel alone while grieving. If you’re struggling, please reach out, you deserve support.