Grief. What does grief mean to you? If you think about it for any length of time I am certain you will see how deeply personal and unique grief is for each person who experiences it. I have worked with many people on this topic over the years, but I feel more importantly I have experienced a lot of grief in my life. In that respect I feel I have the personal experience to go with my clinical training. Grief is in the forefront of my mind especially lately because I recently lost another important person, an old friend. I am again reminded of life’s fragility and that within this grief good still exists.
Grief for me started with the loss of my sister, almost immediately followed by the loss of my mother, and aunt within about 2 years. Those losses were about 7-8 years ago, but their wounds at times still feel fresh. My “cycle” of grief was choppy and may be different or similar to what you have experienced, but know that whatever your experience is/was, it is just that, YOURS.
I plan on discussing the general cycle of grief, but remember that YOUR grief does not need to follow this cycle. It may look completely different, it may not go in “order”, or it may even skip steps. Your cycle of grief is exactly as it should be and it may not be what "others" think, and that is fine. I want anyone reading about grief to know that in my experience there is never a strict standard on what you should go through, but instead only what actually happens to each individual.
*The seven stages of grief I have included are on the chart at the bottom of the page.*
Grief hit me the hardest with the loss of my sister. It was unexpected and heart wrenching losing her at the age of 28. My cycle looked like this: Shock, massive amounts of shock! Denial then set in quickly. I kept reasoning with myself that this was not possible or that perhaps I was dreaming, unfortunately that was not the case. I had an additional step thrown in there between denial and anger, which was compartmentalizing. I had to run the show for many of the funeral arrangements, so I cried at night and figured out how to deal in the day (with periodic breakdowns).
Next came anger. I was angry about everything. The medical examiner messed up the autopsy, the doctors at the hospital made mistakes, etc. Someone needed to take the blame for this unexpected sorrow. I still may be right about some of that, but it would not and did not bring her back. Bargaining was also around from the beginning. I would have dreams and wish I could make them real. Bargaining hurt.
Guilt came and visited me frequently also and at times it still does. If only, why didn’t I, how could I, etc. I loved my sister; she knew that, the end. However, it is hard to not remind yourself of all the mistakes you made with the person you lost. We are all human and we all make these mistakes sometimes, but remember they loved you anyway.
Now depression. Depression is the long lasting friend of grief. I have battled depression and its minions for years since I lost my sister. However, it will not win. Even now when acceptance has come in to play I can still feel depression remind me of its presence, but again I say it will not win. Realistically speaking some people need help when experiencing the level of depression that comes with losing someone so important to you and I would recommend seeing you primary doctor or psychiatrist for potential help in the form of medication. This is always a choice, but remember it is not permanent and you can be tapered off when you want (please always discontinue use of any psychotropic with your doctors help). I did take an anti depressant/ anti anxiety medication for a while to get me over the hump of my worst depressive symptoms. It helped, but I understand it does not help everyone.
Finally, as I stated above acceptance is here. I understand she is gone. I understand my mother is also gone and my aunt, but I still feel very real pain about this. Sometimes you may come across people who cannot understand why you are not over the death of a loved one yet, please do not listen to them. I beg you to understand your process is unique and does not have a set expiration date. However, if grief is interfering with your daily life for an extended period of time please go see a counselor and or a psychiatrist. This in no way means that you should not be feeling this way, but you may need help coping with what happened. I know it may sound stereotypical, but your loved one would not want you feeling this way, so if needed please reach out!
In my next post about grief I will discuss in more detail about the first stage, shock. May you find peace on whatever part of your journey you are on.
-Carmen Wolf, LMFT