Navigating the Emotional Journey

Published 8:15 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

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By Dr. Carletta Artis

Q. How do I make sense of what I am feeling after losing a loved one?

A. When you lose something or someone close to you, it is natural to feel pain or grief. Grief is a

natural response to death or loss. The grieving process is an opportunity to appropriately mourn a loss and then heal. There are specific stages of grief, and they reflect common reactions people have as they try to make sense of a loss. An important part of the healing process is feeling and accepting the emotions that come because of the loss. Let’s review the common stages of grief that some people go through. 

Stage 1 is called Denial, and you may experience numbness and shock. Numbness is a normal reaction to a death or loss and should never be confused with not caring because you aren’t showing any outward emotion. This stage of grief helps to protect us from experiencing the intensity of the loss, which can be useful when we must take some action, such as reviewing important papers, notifying relatives, or planning a funeral. As we move through the experience and slowly acknowledge its impact, the initial denial and disbelief fades.

Stage 2 is called Bargaining and is marked by persistent thoughts about what “could have been

done” to prevent death or loss. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could have been done differently to save the person’s life or prevent the loss. If this stage isn’t dealt with and resolved, a person may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process. Stage 3 is called Depression. In this stage, we begin to realize and feel the true extent of the death or loss. Common signs of depression in this stage might include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. Some people also experience self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious. Stage 4 is called Anger. Please know that anger is very common and happens when we feel helpless and

powerless. Anger can stem from feelings of abandonment because of the death of a loved one

(i.e., you left me). Sometimes, we are angry at God (i.e., how could you let this happen), at the

doctors or nurses who cared for our loved one (i.e., you could have done more), or towards life in general (i.e., she was so young). Stage 5 is called Acceptance because, in time, we can come to terms with all the emotions and feelings we experienced when the death or loss happened.

Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into our set of life experiences. The grieving process is helped when you acknowledge grief, find support, and allow time for grief to work. It is important to note that throughout our lives, we may return to some of these earlier stages of grief, such as depression or anger. You may also experience high emotions when you are reminded of them on their birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays, as well as by a smell in the air, the empty side of the bed, or simply the thought of the one you love. Since, in my opinion, there are no rules or time limits to the grieving process, everyone’s healing process will be different.

Lastly, I believe our loved ones would want us to remember them rather than to grieve them.

They might say, “Remember my life and not my death, remember my laugh, remember our talks, and remember the good times we shared. Simply remember me.”