Understanding & Coping with Grief

The Stages and Symptoms of Grief

Once a person faces the reality of a loss in his/her life he/she must experience grief. Because grief is a process, someone said, “The only way out of grief is through”.
Grief forces us to deal with and face the pain of loss.There are many ways to look at the grief process. Dr. Kubler-Ross identified this pattern in dying patients: denial “there must be some mistake”; anger “why me?”; bargaining…an attempt to postpone; depression: sorrow over past losses & that to come; acceptance/ reorganization.

Dr. Colin Murray-Parkes defined 4 phases of mourning:

  1. A period of numbness occurring close to the time of loss
  2. A phase of yearning: for lost one to return; a denial of the
  3. Disorganization/despair; bereaved finds it difficult to function in environment.
  4. Reorganized behavior…beginning to pull life back together.

You will experience some of the following symptoms:

shock, sadness, crying; changes in life & roles & responsibilities; fears about the future, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, anxiety, loneliness, confusion, yearning.
Difficulties with faith, socialization and maintaining normal activities for a time, anorexia, somatic distress, fatigue, guilt, anger, hostility.

The normal stages: shock, protest, disorganization, reorganization.
“After a significant loss many people have the sense they are going crazy, particularly if they have not sustained a major loss before.”
Though one experiences the phases of grief he/she is not a helpless victim. There are tasks which a person can actually work through whether he/she has been through the death of someone close, a divorce, or been victimized through abuse or crisis.

The following 4 phases of grieving must be worked through and it will take a period of time to do it:

  1. Shock vs. reality; The task of this stage is to accept the reality of the loss/divorce. The person is gone and will not return vs. denial/unbelief of the loss. The childhood experience cannot be changed.
  2. Protest vs. experience; The task is to experience the pain of grief rather than suppress or avoid it. One needs to face the pain of loss, feel the pain & express his/her grief rather than run away.
    (Dr. Colin Murray Parkes wrote) “If it is necessary for the bereaved person to go through the pain of grief in order to get the grief work done, then anything continuously allowing person to avoid or suppress pain can be expected to prolong the course of mourning.” In our culture today we tend to encourage people to suppress the pain…people say “you should be over him/her (or some crisis) by now” This is particularly true in the case of abuse. There are many scars from childhood… many fears, much anger and resentment to be worked through.
  3. Disorganization vs. adjustment: Adjusting to the environment without the person…if it is a spouse…coming to terms with living alone, raising children alone, facing an empty house, managing finances and taking on new roles. One loses a companion, lover, friend, partner in parenthood, provider, way of life, or a childhood. In the case of abuse, one must adjust to no longer relating to or to relating to that person in a different way.
  4. Attachment vs. reorganization: Detaching from the person, memories and hopes and reinvesting in other relationships or in the case of abuse: forgiving and letting go of the past trauma.

Facing the loss with God’s help, placing our hope in Christ, our Savior and experiencing the feelings and work of grief promotes healing.

When should someone get help or counseling? When he/she does not accept reality of loss: When one gets stuck in the past or doesn’t develop coping skills; withdraws from world, and/or becomes increasingly helpless. It is time to get professional help when depression sets in:
When one manifests Major Depression Symptoms:
*over 2 week period.
…lengthy depressed mood
…decreased interest or pleasure in most activities
…significant weight loss or weight gain
…insomnia or hypersomnia
…fatigue or loss of energy …worthlessness or excessive/ inappropriate guilt
…difficulties thinking/ concentrating, indecisiveness nearly every day.
..thoughts of death/suicide*

*If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, get immediate help by getting a professional counseling referral through your family physician or the American Association of Christian Counselors or the National Board or Certified Counselors.

© copyright 2023 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC, CAMS-V