Help Ease the Pain
There is nothing anyone can ever do or so say to make you instantly heal from the experience of loss. However, there is much that can ease the pain and comfort you to help you process the grief.
Expectations of support
Loss is something everyone goes through in life. No one ever escapes it. It is part of the human experience. There are some people who may reach an age in adulthood without having lost a person close to them. They may find it difficult to relate to the depth of emotion at this time; but one day, they too will experience it for themselves. Others may have wounds so deep and unhealed, that they shut themselves off from being sensitive to your grief. This is sad, because one day it will flood forth, as anything forced back eventually does.
Cultural attitudes to loss
Depending on the culture you live in, there are diverse ways that grief is handled. Within this, each individual is unique in how they cope with grief. No one can be, or should be, compartmentalized or judged regarding their processing of a loss. Unfortunately, some cultures do treat loss with insensitivity.
I’m Canadian. My experience in Canada when someone dies, is of people rallying to support. They are there for you to talk to. They bring meals and check in on you. They worry about your finances and arrangements for you. They want to be a part of the healing process. They expect to be there at the funeral and memorial services, and partake in the celebration of the life of the person who has crossed over.
While living in the UK for 12 years, I have experienced the passing of several individuals. In all cases, the subject was avoided, as if the person never existed or it was a terrible taboo to mention them. The funerals were emotionless and impersonal (despite the person having been incredibly loved). Any gesture to help or be involved was shunned. In fact, in one case, a few relatives didn’t bother to attend because it meant taking a day off work. My offer to go in their place was flatly refused. Where I come from, anyone and everyone is welcome at a funeral. It is each person’s right to honour and grieve for the deceased in their own way.
Likewise, when I lost my mother, it was barely acknowledged by the people around me. When I took some time off to grieve, I was poked at regarding getting back to work.
There is an amazing culture on a Polynesian island that handles grief openly and dynamically. If you have a chance, watch the Anuta tribe grieve for Bruce Parry as he leaves their island after a month long visit. There is such an outpouring of emotion that seems to a westerner to be “way over the top”. However, I wonder if this is perhaps the healthiest approach to grief: all have permission to cry out their souls, release the emotional pain from their bodies, and ultimately move on.
Time to grieve
While wallowing endlessly in despair can drain our own life energy, it’s important to allow as much time and space as needed, to fully process the depth of the grief. To release the emotions, let go, and move on.
It takes as long as it takes. Every individual is different. Honour the experience of grief, fully. Cry as hard and for as long as you can. Feel it in every cell, allow it to come out and up and release it.
Stages from loss to acceptance
From a psychological perspective, there are 5 stages from loss to acceptance. They may occur in any sequence. Any stage can last for months or even years. It is normal and healthy to recognize these stages rather than attempt to ignore or suppress them.
These stages apply to any loss, not just of a person through death. They apply in equal importance (though varying degrees) to miscarriage, loss of a pet, loss of a relationship, loss of a home.
Ignoring the loss as if it never happened, that nothing is wrong, that you’ll wake up and it will all be okay. You may withdraw from people in order to avoid facing the loss.
You attempt to “strike a deal” (unreasonable, extreme measures) with God, yourself or others in an effort to revert the loss. You seek a miracle cure, take risks or make sacrifices to change what is.
You feel angry with God, yourself or others over your loss and outraged by the pain that must be felt around the loss. You vent your anger and resentment aggressively at scapegoats (doctors, hospitals, family, friends, often your loved ones). You blame yourself, others, or even the deceased for the loss.
Your anger must be expressed and resolved. If suppressed, it could drain emotional energy, leading to clinical depression and deterioration in physical health.
You become overwhelmed by the pain and hurt, with uncontrollable crying, sobbing and weeping. You may dwell in melancholy and morose thoughts. You may experience guilt for the loss, as if it is a form of punishment. You may lose hope of ever returning to ‘normal’. You may lose your faith in God or a higher power and feel life is pointless or meaningless.
It’s essential to work through your despair (with professional help if necessary) because prolonged despair can lead to mental illness, divorce, and even suicide. If you’re dwelling in despair, please seek support.
Eventually, you develop greater understanding of loss as part of the human experience. At this stage, it becomes easier to talk about the loss without as much emotional intensity or charge. You are able to tell the story and describe the pain of your loss. You can think rationally, adapt to life without the presence that was lost, and cope. Your emotions cease to be as volatile or unpredictable. You regain self confidence, purpose, meaning. You recognize your capacity for healing and personal growth.
Acceptance can arrive within any of the above stages as your capacity for understanding the human condition grows.