This is a reprint from a journal entry by starfish, another member on Daily Strength. I asked her for permission to re-post and she has graciously allowed me to! I read through this entry and kept thinking "Yep, that's me, that's me too, I do that..." and understanding the normality of what I'm feeling under the circumstances has helped me to feel a bit less crazy. Hopefully reading through this will help some of you, as of course, it applies to the sad theme of our group :(. I hope you all are taking good care of yourselves!
On Processing Grief
We all grieve in different ways, and when a major loss hits a family, all those different ways can cause great conflict. Some people need (at least at first) to distract themselves; others need to talk to someone. Some people suddenly need to be the center of attention, and others need some space and to be allowed some distance. What I was remembering today, which still sometimes comes to mind because it (among other things) was so painful; my X-MOL (whom I don't get along well with in the first place)....dealt with the loss of my oldest son by getting rid of everything she could, and bleaching all his clothes. (He was living at her house at the time he died)....needless to say, I was even more traumatized by this, because I needed something to hold on to. I wanted to still be able to smell his clothes and let go little by little.
I think the take-home point I want to make here is, that once my X-MOL got rid of my son's clothes, I had no way to process my grief the way I wanted and needed to. So, if you feel compelled to get rid of things ASAP, then please stop to consider that others may not feel that way about the lost person's items and things that remind the family of their presence (and now, the lack of it) Other people may feel the need to keep them for a while, and that is NOT a weak, wrong, or bad way to deal with loss. Once those things are gone, they're gone.
Here's some other info I've compiled about the grief process:
(This information on the stages of grief was first compiled by Elizabeth Keubler-Ross. who has written several good books on the subject of death and dying, and the process of grief. Most of the details I have gathered from one of my college nursing books)
Bear in mind, it is only theory, and not every one will experience it as it is written. Not everyone will even go through all the phases, necessarily. It's just a guideline.
These stages were first attributed to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a renown psychiatrist who wrote a ground-breaking book called "On Death and Dying."
The 5 stages are:
1)Denial and Disbelief (Shock)
2)Grief and Sadness (Awareness)
3)Anger ( Pain)
4)Bargaining ( Confusion, Processing the idea)
Any kind of loss, particularly the death of a close loved one, can provoke the need for working through the process of mourning. However, it can also include the loss of good health, the loss of a limb or body part (including abortion), even social status or the loss of financial security, (including a job.)
In theory, typically anyone suffering from grief must work through this process to regain emotional equallibrium and regain the ability to function normally through life.
However, the stages are not necessarily experienced in order, and depending on the intensity of grief experienced, the person may have to work through the steps several times before finally adjusting completely.
This does not mean never remembering the person/object again, but it means that remembering does not interfere with or inhibit everyday functioning. This process may take a year or longer, depending on: the person's mental stability to begin with, the overall effect of their loss on their day to day life, and the amount of support given by friends and family, among other things.
The acute stage, the immediate experience, is denial. Denial is a necessary and useful coping mechanism for the immediate situation, just like your body goes into shock with a serious physical injury. The problem is when someone gets stuck in denial and cannot cope with the idea the person/thing is gone at some point. Your mind can play tricks on you at this time. You are not psychotic or losing it, your mind just hasn't adjusted to the idea of your loss yet. You can think you hear the person talking to you, or you hear them drive up, or you dream about them like you usually do. I felt the warmness of my cat on my bed where he used to sleep next to me. Other experiences may include, but aren't limited to, physical feelings related to stress, such as tightness and/or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, sighing, "mental pain," food may be tasteless. You also may feel sympathetic pain similar to whatever the pain the lost loved one had.
Awareness should happen within a relatively short period of time. But as denial fades, the pain starts. Along with awareness come anger and guilt. Family, friends, and even medical staff are often blamed in this stage. Sometimes rightly so. Crying is expected. The inability to cry may cause the person to have difficulty moving through the process. To end the acute stage, the physical tasks at hand - notifying family, submitting a newspaper obituary, funeral plans, etc. are accomplished.
In the long-term stage, which can take 1-2 years or longer, the overall emotional work begins. This is where many people who are not familiar with grief get caught off guard - both those experiencing grief, and those trying to help the grieving. That is because, all through the acute stage, there is still some denial and distraction getting the person through. A few weeks or months after the loss, reality begins to set in at a deeper level. That person is REALLY not there - and they are not coming back. They do not call, you find some clothing with their smell on it and don't wash it, you keep everything you find that was theirs, and if you were financially connected, the paycheck does not come. You see unbearable reminders of places they liked to go, and people you knew in common, and you may withdraw and stay home. This is when it begins to feel like you are not going to make it through and you cannot go on without the person/thing that was lost. This is when, especially if you were stressed and/or struggling emotionally to begin with, you are most likely to need some medical help for depression and/or anxiety. But as you adapt, put away the person's things, hang pictures on the wall, and time goes by, things should, little by little, feel better. Not the same, but not as painful and overwhelming.
Some experiences during this phase might be: preoccupation and talking about many memories of the deceased, with great sadness. Idealizing (good memories)helps resolve guilt. (if you are helping someone grieve, listen to their sad memories, acknowledge them, and then help them remember some good ones too, when they are ready.)
Displaced anger is common - again, if you are helping someone else to grieve, don't expect them to be in a good mood. Trying to "cheer them up" may just make them mad at you. Meet with them where they are at, and even if just a little, gently help them move foreward.
Anger can have many faces, and is most intense during the first month. But its intensity can resurface especially throughout the first year. Depending on life's demands, working through this part can take much longer than a year. The one-year mark, though, is a good indicator of whether or not someone is stuck or in serious trouble. By then, there should be some degree of acceptance, closure, and adaptation. If not, assess the complexity of the situation, and if there is not some significant reason for hinderance, which can be any number of things, you might consider therapy and/or medication.
Give yourself time. In our less-rushed culture not so far past, people were expected to take a year off work to mourn the loss of a close family member. That was just to allow them to be able to function again. The grief process is no picnic, but when worked through successfully, you will come through it a stronger, more compassionate person.
Life is indeed not fair. Loss is inevitable, and sometimes comes from out of nowhere, completely unexpected. The key to surviving it is being able to adapt and carry on in some way at some point in time. Some losses are so devastating, the previous lifestyle cannot be regained. And that in itself is another thing to grieve, adapt to, and move on with.