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Grief and Loss: The Phases of Grief and Loss

Recognize the phases of grief and loss.

Each person's grief is unique. Sometimes you may experience only a few reactions in no particular sequence. Often you can move from one stage to another and then return to old feelings that you thought had long disappeared.

The following descriptions should assure you that your reactions are normal and also give you some insight into the feelings of others who may be suffering from a loss.

The immediate impact

  • Grief is an emotional response to a significant loss and can be difficult to describe.To experience grief is to acknowledge that you are human.
  • You will often first feel numbness, denial, disbelief, and shock. You may have the sense that this didn't happen or couldn't have happened.
  • To experience grief is to acknowledge that you had a connection with someone or something, and now that person or thing has changed or is gone.
  • It is a high compliment to any relationship or experience that you miss it enough to feel emotional and shed a tear. Tears are not a sign of weakness, but an indication of how special the relationship or experience was.

The aftershocks

As you begin to accept the loss, both intellectually and emotionally, the second phase begins; this period can involve both deep physical and emotional pain. You may become bewildered by the avalanche of emotions.

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Depression

You may also experience physical changes, including some of the following:

  • Absent-mindedness
  • Numbness
  • Restlessness
  • Crying
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite disorders
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Physical symptoms

What is most important is that you realize that you are unique and your response will not be the same as any one else's.

Surrender and letting go

During this phase, various emotions may persist but to a far lesser degree than during the "aftershocks" phase. The "surrender and letting go" phase tends to be a time for reflection and growth. At this time, you might review the lost relationship memories, or thoughts and feelings about the past.

An important part of this phase is coming to terms with the reality that a loved one is gone, or a significant change has occurred or you have lost something of great significance. While your intense pain tends to subside, the sense of loss and loneliness may persist — sometimes for a year or longer.

Friends and mates may try to get you to focus on the present or the future now, but taking time to remember what you have lost is an essential part of letting it go and moving on.

Moving on

Grief involves survival. After a loss, you may wonder how you are going to manage. The word survival actually derives from two Latin words: "vivo," live, and "sur," beyond. To survive means to find the capacity to "live beyond" the experience of the loss. As you move on, life begins to return to normal. Sadness may come only at rare moments and your memories will become more pleasant.

Next: Self-Care