Loss is a natural part of the process of living. Everyone experiences it. Some losses are more painful than others: loss of a loved one, loss through divorce, loss of a job, loss of friends because of a move or retirement.
Loss brings with it another natural and very human response – grief. Like resting when we are tired or drinking when we are thirsty, grieving is a normal, necessary and natural part of staying healthy. It’s nature’s way of healing an emotional wound.
Grieving can be difficult and emotionally exhausting. But unresolved grief can lead to serious emotional or physical problems. If left unresolved, grief can lead to depression, anxiety, sickness, alcohol or other drug use, or even suicide.
Experts say that the process of grieving can last a year or longer, depending upon the individual and the circumstances. And each person experiences and expresses grief differently. The key to healing from a loss is to let yourself grieve for as long as it takes.
If you have experienced a severe loss, such as the death of a loved one, you may experience the following stages:
- Shock. You may experience disbelief or denial
or feel numb.
- Flood of emotions. Crying, screaming and other emotional releases are normal.
- Physical symptoms. You may experience insomnia or sleep more than usual; or you may experience discomfort, fatigue, loss of appetite or other changes.
- Depression. You may feel that you will never recover, never be happy again.
- Guilt. Even if there is no factual reason for it, feeling guilty is normal. You may go through “if only” feelings (i.e. “If only I had been there when it happened.”).
- Anger. It’s not uncommon to be angry – at the loved one for leaving or at life for being unfair.
- Idealization and realization. At first you may feel that the past was perfect and the future will never be quite as good.
- Detachment. As you begin to see the past as the past, you can develop new routines in your life.
- Continuing with your life. Over time, if the normal stages of grieving have not been blocked or inhibited, you will adjust to the loss, recognize it and go on
Some stages may take longer than others to work through, or something you thought was resolved may reappear. Give yourself time and stay as active as you can – exercise, take a vacation, stay in contact with the world outside. Avoid making major decisions, such as selling your home or changing jobs, for at least a year.
Avoid using alcohol and other drugs to manage your feelings. Their use can lead to serious health problems and may actually delay or block the healing process of grieving. Medications should be monitored carefully and used only under the supervision of a physician.
Just talking about your problems sometimes leads to
new solutions. If you or someone you know needs information, guidance or help, call our Respond
program at 1-800-366-1132. Respond offers
confidential, caring assessments and referrals for individuals dealing with problems related to
mental health issues and substance abuse.
If you or a loved one are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 immediately.