These days, fewer Americans grow up surrounded by extended family and friends. Thus, their contact with death and with the long-standing tradition of attending the funeral services of loved ones has been dramatically reduced. When death does occur, many people have little, if any preparation toward accepting it.
Overall, grieving is less ritualized today than it used to be, both during the funeral service and in everyday life. However, grieving is still a very important part of dealing with any type of loss, but especially the loss of a loved one.
Emotions caused by the death of a loved one are very powerful. If these emotions are not faced, experienced and dealt with, they may become a destructive force in a person’s life.
On the other hand, grief should not be indulged in to the exclusion of all other emotions. Avoiding sadness is not healthy, but you should also incorporate some celebration of the joy of this person’s life through the funeral service or in other types of commemoration.
Often, those who are busiest handling all the details at the time of death are the ones who do not take time to grieve and to say goodbye. Then, this grief often manifests itself later as illness or depression.
There appear to be three generally recognizable stages of grief that a person encounters after a loss. The first stage is shock and denial. The second is anger and depression. And the final stage is understanding and acceptance.
The numbness that many people experience following the loss of a loved one is created by the shock and denial one feels when first facing the news of a death. A sense of unreality may prevent tears and other outward forms of expression that we expect with grief.
Tears and anger often begin as a person reaches the second stage of grief. The loss now seems real and it is painful. Grief begins to affect you physically as well as emotionally. You may feel a loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, upset stomach and other physical reactions. These are all normal reactions that need to be addressed; however, turning to alcohol or drugs only makes the pain more difficult and prolonged.
The third and final stage of grief is understanding and acceptance. While no one can ever fully understand the loss of a loved one, reconciling ourselves to that loss is a necessary part of recovery. Facing and accepting the loss of a loved one many also help us come to terms with our own sense of mortality.
By living one day at a time and taking positive steps each day to reach the goal of reconciliation, you’ll find you are beginning to cope again. Your active participation in this process will speed the time of healing.
Suggested positive steps toward healing may include keeping up with friendships and attending support groups or related church activities. Also, take time to exercise, eat healthy and continue to participate in hobbies and interests once enjoyed. You might want to consider pursuing new hobbies, activities and friendships also as ways to start “living” again.