What is Grief?
by Ann Estlund
A friend asked me, "What is grief, exactly?"
I gave him the simple answer: "Grief is the natural response of a body and mind to a traumatic loss." But, I realized that definition doesn't help anyone who has not grieved really understand grief, nor does it alleviate grief for anyone experiencing it. Whether we care about our own or someone else's grief, we must study the process and its symptoms to be helpful.
Symptoms can include feelings of despair, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, disorientation, confusion, anxiety, anger, lethargy and fatigue. It's not unusual, though, to also include periods of elation, smugness and wittiness. We who have grieved also might warn that we have difficulties concentrating, calculating, making decisions, reading and comprehending, especially at first. We also show unstable and erratic emotions, eating patterns and sleep habits for months or even years. We can seem pretty odd, but I encourage everyone to learn and be patient, because someday they may walk in our shoes.
Understanding Grief's Stages
We need to learn about grief's stages, so we can recognize appropriate behaviors and know how and when to reach out with help for others or seek it for ourselves. Authorities disagree on the number and names of the stages, as well as why the stages differ so widely from person to person. Most do agree that widowhood and loss of a child trigger the most profound grief, and the highest levels of stress. Grief follows no set pattern, but it moves through stages, with erratic symptoms often appearing without warning.
Major variations can occur because of the loss itself, whether the griever witnessed the death, and personal characteristics such as personality, age, independence, spirituality, and training. My only advice is: Never judge a griever by your own experience or someone elses. We are each unique.. Stages of Grief Shock/Numbness My own period of shock felt like being inside a protective bubble, tumbling through my nightmare as a remote observer. I walked and talked and faked life, but I wasn't actively engaged.
Confusion/Disorientation I felt left out, unaware of anything but myself. I often felt quite superior that I knew things others did not. I was unable to read well or drive a car reliably for several weeks.
Denial Like shock, denial cushions us from what we cannot handle. Eventually denial can make us prisoners of our grief, so we may need to seek help to face reality and suffer the pain of it.
Anxiety I fought anxiety with massage, exercise and an occasional pill, but often I lost the battle. In a pre-dawn panic attack, I knew I was dying just as my husband had months earlier.
Anger Few escape anger for having been left alone, for having too much to do; for poor record-keeping, etc. Once I learned anger was actually normal, I found many reasons to be angry.
Guilt Nearly all survivors suffer guilt, most without real cause. Even those with good reason to feel guilty must work through these feelings so they can move forward. Guilt is destructive, never helpful. Depression
Having nursed friends through depression, I knew enough to have anti-depressants to take at the first sign of losing control. I watched myself carefully. I urge others to seek help if they have a single thought of suicide or abuse of others. I tell them to say over and over, "I need help," until they get it.
Cockiness Although not included in most lists of stages, many go through periods of cockiness. I felt alert, capable and in control, and I knew grief wouldn't get me down. A little bit is okay, but it isn't real.
Acceptance This is the "carrot" that leads us on in this race with reality. We must accept our husband's or child's death as real and final, but we also must accept our life alone as real and as a new opportunity.
We all wish we could skip right to Acceptance, but it's the lessons learned in other stages that make acceptance possible. Don't rush the process; be patient. Grief is complex and varied, but it touches us all. We must all learn about its basics so we can better help ourselves or others.
Article Source: http://www.articlerich.com
Annie Estlund is the author of the handbook, For Widows Only.
Visit her Web site
to learn more about her support group for widows.
article re-published 17 August 2006