Coping with losing someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. Often, the pain of grief can feel overwhelming. In addition, you may experience difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.
This pain can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. Of course, these are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.
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What is grief?
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. Though we often expect to grieve the death of a family member or friend, many other significant losses can also trigger it. Examples include:
- The end of a relationship
- A move to a new community
- A much-anticipated opportunity or life goal is suddenly closed to us
- Someone we love contracts a potentially life-threatening illness
Grieving such losses is essential because it allows you to “free up” energy bound to the lost person, object, or experience — so that you might reinvest that energy elsewhere. Until you grieve effectively, you will likely find reinvesting difficult; a part of you remains tied to the past.
Grieving is not forgetting. Nor is it drowning in tears. Healthy grieving results in an ability to remember the importance of your loss — but with a newfound sense of peace rather than searing pain.
Newer ideas about grief
The five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — have long been utilized to describe one’s attempt to process change and protect themselves while adapting to a new reality. This was one of the most common theories about how grief works, but as research into the topic grows over time, it is no longer considered the most useful.
In 1999, Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut developed the Dual Process Model of Grief. They suggested that grieving is a process of moving between two types of responses:
- Loss-oriented responses refer to the wave of emotions or feelings you work through when thinking about the person who has died
- Restoration-oriented responses refer to getting on with day-to-day life and managing the practical things that need to happen after someone dies.
This way of thinking about grief, and looking at it as an active process that you go through, is something that William Worden also considered in 2008 in his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. He talks about there being tasks in grief:
- Accepting the reality of the loss
- Working through the pain of grief
- Adapting to a world without the person who has died, both emotionally, physically, and spiritually
- Finding a way to stay connected with the person who has died while carrying on day-to-day life
Both views on grief can be seen to be more reflective of the rollercoaster of emotions you experience while trying to come to terms with it, and that’s why they are now considered to be more helpful than the five stages of grief.
While one’s grief may reflect the stages described above, it may also feel completely different. That’s why it’s important not to rely solely on established models to understand how it works.