Despite the intense roller-coaster of emotions experienced by many bereaved persons, most grief is a normal albeit painful reaction to the loss of a loved one. Each individual expresses grief in his or her own way. Although grief is not time bound, the intensity of normal grief does heal over time as the bereaved adjusts to the loss.
Stages of Grief
Grief can affect people emotionally, physically, cognitively and behaviorally. Everybody experiences these aspects of grief in his or her own way.
- Emotional: Sadness, anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning, emancipation, relief, numbness
- Physical: Hollowness of the stomach, tightness of the chest, tightness of the throat, oversensitivity to noise, sense of depersonalization, breathlessness and shortness of breath, weakness of the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth
- Cognitive: Disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, lack of focus
- Behavioral: Sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, absent-mindedness, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, searching and calling out, sighing, restless over activity, crying, visiting places or carrying objects, treasuring objects
Many people express grief in a more visual way, such as crying, lack of energy or trouble sleeping. Others, on the surface, may not seem to be grieving. Instead, they process grief internally. For these people, their grief may go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Be aware that grief is personal and specific to the person. Try not to make judgments about how you or others process the loss of your loved one. The manner and timing that you approach and work through grief depends on you as an individual.
On occasion, a person may become stuck at some point in the journey, and grief becomes complicated. Seeking the services of a grief counselor may be helpful.
Children and Grief
Although children are not able to fully comprehend death until they're about 10 years old, they are nevertheless capable of experiencing grief from a very young age once they're able to sense separation from caregivers. Children's grief is different than that of adults and depends on their developmental level. Children's grief may also be cyclical: Children will grieve within the confines of their developmental stage and then re-grieve the same loss again when they're more developmentally advanced.
Over time, the ups and downs of grief will become less intense as the wounds of loss heal. What remains is often not an ending but a new beginning, as new and different but continuing bonds with a loved one are established and personal growth and transformation are discovered.