Healthy Grieving

What It Means

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an expert in the field of death and dying, named the five stages of loss as denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

These five stages are generalized concepts that sum up what can occur during the grieving process, but everyone experiences grief and loss differently. Healthy grieving means something completely different for one person than it does the next. Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a psychiatrist and neurologist, said, "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior." This essentially means that the grief response simply cannot be anticipated adequately from one individual to the next. You may go through the stages of grief with equal time spent on each level, while your neighbor may stay in shock for weeks.

Social withdrawal, emotional isolation, hysteria, crying, depression, anxiety, anger, loss of impulse control, lethargy and moodiness may all accompany healthy grieving. It will all depend on pre-existing behavior. And even then, there is no determination of how someone will respond to loss from one scenario to the next. Just because one occasion elicited a certain response, doesn't mean the same will hold true on another. The frequency of loss also affects how we will experience the grieving process.

How to Cope

If you've recently experienced loss, the most beneficial thing you can do right now is to give yourself time. Don't tack the stages of grief in your journal and expect to move between them in a straight line. Most individuals will go back and forth between stages before arriving at the final stage of acceptance. You may experience more than one stage at a time. And you may not experience all of the stages. So, read over the descriptions and then put them away. A good understanding of the emotions you may go through in the coming weeks, months or years will help you, but don't dwell on them.

Talk about your loss. Even if you aren't comfortable with counseling or therapy, talk with someone. If you simply aren't ready to speak about it with another person, then write in a journal. Acknowledging your emotions is important. Acknowledge the loss and what it meant to you. Grief can occur even before the actual event occurs, with prolonged illness or the gradual loss of a friendship or career. Exploring the way you are feeling through this journey is an important step to moving on. If you don't want your words to remain after you've written them, then destroy them. You can burn or shred your thoughts as soon you've finished penning them. The idea is to form your feelings into words. The benefit is in the act of writing and reading over your own thoughts, even if it's just once.

Keep an eye on your health. Appetite is likely to wane, so you'll need to be proactive at making sure you are getting everything your body needs. Your mind and body function holistically, so don't do yourself the disservice of focusing only on how you are feeling emotionally. Get plenty of rest and ask for help if you are having trouble sleeping through the night or maintaining your focus at work. There are a myriad of options for temporary relief, including the short-term use of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleeping aids. Grief is universal and will affect all of us at some point. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job or friendship, and leaving your hometown behind for less familiar surroundings, all create in us a sense of grief and that same experience will be felt differently from one person to the next.