By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
Statistics show that everyone can expect to experience the loss of a loved one once every nine to thirteen years. The resulting sadness may be the most painful of life’s experiences. Because it is painful, however, our eventual adaptation to the loss can bring meaning and integrity to our lives.
Our ability to adapt to loss is an important feature of the course of our lives. Change can instigate growth. Loss can give rise to gain. If we do not grieve the loss however, it may drain us of energy and interfere with our living fully in the present.If we are not able to mourn at all, we may spend our lives under the spell of old issues and past relationships; living in the past and failing to connect with the experiences of the present.
Grieving is a process of experiencing our reactions to loss. It is similar to mourning.The term bereavement means the state, not the process, of suffering from a loss. Normal grieving is an expected part of the process of recuperating from a loss. The intensity of the process comes as a surprise to most people, and for many, it becomes on of their most significant life experiences. People have their own individual grief responses. No two people will experience the process in the same way.
The first reaction to the loss of a loved one, even when the loss is expected, is usually a sense of disbelief, shock, numbness, and bewilderment. The survivor, may experience a period of denial in which the reality of the loss is put out of mind. This reaction provides the person some time to prepare to deal with the inevitable pain.
The feeling of numbness then turns to intense suffering. The person feels empty. There are constant reminders of the one who has been lost. There may be periods of increased energy and anxiety followed by times of deep sadness, lethargy, and fatigue. The grieving survivor may adopt some mannerisms of the one who has left.
Sadness may be interspersed with times of intense anger. We may reproach ourselves for not doing enough to prevent the death or for having treated the deceased badly in the past. Normal stressors may become triggers that set off periods of deep anger.
All of us grieve in different ways, depending on the circumstances of the death, our own personal characteristics, and the meanings attached to the death by those left behind. Working with a professional therapist may help individuals experiencing intense grief to better process what has happened and to take the necessary actions that will allow them to complete the grieving process and eventually to move on to a whole and meaningful life again.