When people think of loss, grief and mourning, they usually think of it in the context of someone dying.
Although this is often the case, it is also common to experience the stages of grief and loss after other circumstances – such as losing a relationship, beloved pet, or a job.
Grief and mourning can be defined as a normal response to the loss of something – or someone – significant to you.
Symptoms of Grief
Some people are able to return to their usual level of functioning very quickly after experiencing a loss, whereas others may take a long time. There is no ‘normal’ timeframe, and no ‘normal’ way to grieve, as individual responses may vary.
Symptoms of grief and mourning may include:
- Intense sadness;
- Loss of meaning in life;
- Reduced appetite, weight loss;
- Feeling numb or detached;
- Anxiety, anger, guilt;
- Mood swings, frequent crying.
The 5 Stages of Grief and Mourning
You may have heard of the ‘five stages of grief,’ as they have been featured amongst popular culture movies and TV shows.
It is true that some people move through different stages of grief, following a loss or bereavement; however, individual responses to grief vary, and where some people may move through the five stages in order, others will go back and forth, or even skip stages entirely.
Stage 1 – Denial: It might take time to process the reality of the loss, which is a defence mechanism as it helps us to cope better as it slowly sinks in. Typical responses include disbelief and denial (“I can’t believe it”, “this isn’t happening”), to feeling numb or acting hysterical.
Stage 2 – Anger: Intense emotions such as anger and blame may set in, and in some cases the person may take this out on others, including doctors, strangers, or even the deceased (“this is all your fault!”, or “how could you leave me?”).
Stage 3 – Bargaining: The person may say things like, “If only I did something sooner”; or they may make deals with God in an attempt to feel in control of the situation (“if you bring her back I’ll never do anything wrong again”).
Stage 4 – Depression: In this phase, the reality of the loss sets in and the person in grief and mourning feels a deep sense of sadness or despair.
Stage 5 – Acceptance: In the final stage, the person begins to rebuild their life around new values and meaning. They return to their previous levels of functioning, and can remember happier times without feeling overwhelmed.
How to Move on Following a Loss
- Accept the loss. This allows the healing process to begin.
- Allow yourself to grieve. As hard as this can be, we need to feel the pain in order to move through it. Let yourself cry as it can help to release painful emotions.
- Spend time with people who care about you and talk about the loss. Talk about your feelings and memories. This will help you to process your emotions and come to terms with what has happened.
- Give yourself time. Grief and mourning can be a long process, don’t expect to rush through it. In the meantime, make sure you exercise, get plenty of rest and eat well. Just take things one step at a time.
- After coming to terms with a loss, it is important to reconnect with the things that once gave your life joy and meaning. Build your life up and create new experiences.
- Honour your loss through a special ceremony. Lighting a candle in memorial, writing a letter of goodbye or releasing a helium balloon into the sky are all examples. This may be helpful when experiencing anniversaries or times in which you expect memories and emotions to resurface.
But what if you feel trapped in grief and mourning, and like you are not moving on?
It’s true, some people may become stuck in the grieving process, or may skip it entirely, and refuse to deal with the loss at all. This can mean that the grief isn’t dealt with and may become more difficult or take longer to resolve.
In these cases, symptoms such as intense sadness or yearning for the loss can persist for years, greatly impairing the person’s daily functioning and life. This is known as ‘complicated grief’, and may indicate that it’s time to see a professional to help you work through your emotions.
If you are having trouble moving on from grief, or if your grief is impairing your ability to function in your daily life (relationships, work, self-care), then it may be helpful to get support or professional help.
Author: Tegan Gonczar, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Ed (Secondary).
Tegan Gonczar is a Brisbane psychologist with experience in providing psychological counselling to children, adolescents and adults; she has a passion for working with people of all ages, to help them overcome obstacles, learn effective ways of coping and lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Tegan Gonczar, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Axelrod, J. (2016). The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 4, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/.
- Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Simon & Schuster Ltd.