All things must pass;
All things must pass away. – George Harrison
We all know from those tear-wrenching songs, books, movies and poetry that most of us won’t get through life without experiencing the death of someone close. Yet when it happens, we are often unprepared for the level of grief, and unsure what we’re supposed to do about it. We live in a culture that gives us one day off from work to attend a funeral or service – with a mindset that expects us to move on, let go, get over it ASAP – even though grief is the natural emotional response to losing someone we love.
The symptoms of grief
Most people say that until you have been through it, you cannot describe – or even begin to comprehend – the all-consuming depth of emotion that is the natural response to great loss. Grief, some say, feels like falling down a black hole. The heart feels like it will never heal, and this can be accompanied by insomnia, depression, lack of appetite and (of course) many tears and a lot of confusion. Often, there is guilt: you feel that maybe you could have done something, or that you didn’t do enough. Then there’s the need to talk about it to anyone who will listen, or the desire to clam up about it. The grief doesn’t go away in just days, or even months.
Time and space
Just how long does grief last? That’s individual, say the experts. Members of a family may grieve for the same person in different ways, at different speeds, with different intensity, and with different waves of feeling. No one can run away from grief. If we don’t mourn our loss we can end up carrying those emotions around, which can play havoc on our emotional lives – causing long-term anxiety and depression. These, in turn, may affect our ability to love and live, well in the future.
Sometimes we have to knowingly put off processing our grief, because we’re too busy planning the funeral or taking care of the bills. There are times that we don’t have anyone to listen to our stories and memories, and mourn along with us. Even with other stress factors, it’s imperative that we make time to face our grief as early as possible. For some, grief can be a test of our faith. Others find that it leads them to question their sanity, or challenges them to make changes. For some, it’s an impetus to take better care of themselves.
Grief, no matter how you experience it, is a journey that sociologists agree comes in stages:
1) Shock or denial
2) Explosive reactions
3) Despair and disorganization
4) Acceptance and reorganization.
We must all go through this journey in order for grief to pass. It’s also important to understand that there are deaths and losses we never really get over. Instead, we learn to live with the memories of our loved ones – parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends and pets.
In healing, we find that our memories have taken the place of their physical presence, and they will live in our hearts and minds – in peace – for the rest of our lives.
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