Grief is an ongoing process and it is never completely settled. The loss is always with you and it can be triggered by anything. One moment you are resilient, functioning and in control. The next minute you feel fragile, confused and helpless.
No one expresses loss in exactly the same way, some connect emotionally to loss through words, while others engage in rituals and acts that demonstrate the importance of the deceased in their lives.
A personal as grief is, experts agree that people experience common thoughts and feelings in response to the loss of a loved one.
These “categories” are outlined below by Therese Rando, Ph.D., in “How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies” (Lexington Books, 1988). Rando, a renowned expert on the grieving process, is a clinical psychologist in Warwick, R.I., and clinical director of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss.
What to Expect After a Loved One Dies: Forms of Grief
The Main Categories of Grief
- Avoidance. Feelings of shock and disbelief are typical of the early days after death; usually, they give way to a cascade of other reactions — anger, sadness, fear, worry and despair.
- Confrontation. This is the most acute, emotionally charged phase of grief, writes Rando. The shock has worn off, but you repeatedly review the fact that your loved one is dead. You may feel an aching emptiness and be fearful that your suffering will never subside.
- Accommodation. Acute grief has declined and you start to pick up your routine. You are still mourning what you have lost, not just the person’s physical presence but all of the hopes, dreams, wishes, goals, fantasies and feelings you had for and with that person. But you know you will survive.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
- During the phases of grief, people often have physical reactions, including insomnia, weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, poor digestion, irritability and inability to concentrate.
- People reported being unable to sleep during the first six months after their loved ones die. Disrupted sleep is common, says Golden. “Before sleep, your body and mind are relaxed, which is precisely the state you need to be in for deep emotions to surface,” he explains.
Learning to Live With Loss
To adapt to living without your loved one, Rando says the following tasks must be accomplished.
- The reality and reasons for death must be acknowledged, put in context and accepted. This is why humans spend so much time, effort and money to recover bodies after catastrophes, she points out. We need evidence of death before we can grieve it.
- The pain of separation must be felt over and over again for the emotional charge to be diffused. It is often said that the only way to heal from pain is to lean into it. Many people find that writing, music and art help them to process the pain, especially if they can’t talk about it.
- New roles and skills must be assumed to compensate for what you have lost.
Finally, the emotional energy you invested in the relationship with the deceased needs to be channeled elsewhere so it can once again bring you satisfaction. Rando notes that the energy does not need to be reinvested in a person; it can be placed in objects, activities, hopes or causes.