“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” — Pslam 23:4
One of the most unnerving and devastating things that could possibly occur to us in our lives, is the loss of someone near and dear to our hearts. When we lose someone that was so intricately woven into the fabric of our existence, the pain seems never-ending. It cuts to the core of who we are, making us question our existence here on earth.
If you’ve ever lost someone close, then my heart goes out to you. I know just how devastating this feels. I know just how much it upends our lives and emotionally twists us into a torrent of tears and mental anguish. It isn’t easy dealing with grief and loss. It isn’t easy trying to mend a broken heart, especially when you hinged much of your happiness and joy on that individual’s presence in your life.
I know just how much it hurts. While no words can ever bring that person back, there are ways to cope with your grief and the devastation of your loss. But what it is about grief and loss that inflicts so much pain in our lives? Why is death something that’s so taboo in our culture that we look at it with suspect and fear?
Well, for starters, death to us is the ultimate pain. And the human mind will do more to avoid pain than it will to gain pleasure. That’s pre-programmed into our genetic fiber — it’s the basic fundamental tenet of our DNA. It’s also steeped in our fear of the unknown.
While our faiths might tell us one thing about the afterlife, allowing us to harbor a sense of certainty about what happens after we die, pain can arise through the fear of second-guessing what we believe to know as the truth. What we’ve come to know and trust about life is flipped upside down when someone close to us dies, forcing us to reflect on our own deepest, darkest fears.
Understanding The Five Stages of Grief and Loss
However much it hurts to suffer through the loss of someone close, knowledge is power. By understanding the five stages of grief and loss, we can develop a foundation of knowledge, building a platform for healing and growth. Through that loss, we can ultimately change the trajectory of our lives, adding value or contributing in ways we had never thought imaginable in the past.
Stage #1 — Denial
The first stage we go through during the grieving process is denial. It’s hard to believe it happened. It’s tough to think that a person might not be here any longer. The complex set of emotions overwhelms our fragile minds. And denial is the defense mechanism that allows us to cope with that initial set of shock.
If you’ve ever experienced the untimely loss of someone near and dear to your heart, you know very well just how powerful this stage is. But it’s a normal reaction. It’s not that we don’t believe it. We simply can’t process it at the moment, so our internal mechanism blocks it out.
Without denial, the grief might be too much for us to bear. The burden of weight that it carries can crush us like a 10-ton car-compactor. There would be little standing in the way of complete mental and emotional breakdown if we didn’t have this built-in mechanism as part of the coping process.
Stage #2 — Anger
Once the denial wears off, we’re often still not ready to deal with the complex set of emotions left in the wake of a monumental loss. We’re ill prepared to fend off the emotional, mental and spiritual tumult that arises when something catastrophic occurs in our lives. Thus, out of denial, anger is born.
Anger is another method for deflecting the pain that comes with massive grief and loss. We get angry at everything. There’s no shortage of things that set us off in this second stage. Whether it’s a physical intimate object like a car door, or a concept such as society, or a person that’s close to us, our rage holds no bars here.
Yet, this anger provides strength in a manner. Unlike the obfuscation that arises in the stage of denial, anger is more internally empowering. It provides fuel to fight off the coming stages where we begin to acknowledge and ultimately accept the event that transpired.
Stage #3 — Bargaining
The third stage of grief and loss is bargaining. Once the stages of deflection have subsided, we begin to bargain in an attempt to regain control on the internal wrangling that’s weighing us down. We turn to God, Allah, Buddha or whatever or whomever we call our higher power, and we attempt to bargain our way out of the pain.
But there’s no escaping it. This simply helps to prolong or delay the reaction to the pain, slowly easing our way into it. We say things like, “If only I had done a better job paying attention,” or, “Only if I had shown them just how much I loved them, maybe they’d still be here” and “God, if you bring them back, I promise you that I will never do so-and-so again in my life.”
Bargaining also takes center stage when we’re trying to hope our way out of what might be the inevitable. From the person on life support to the one just about to undergo surgery for a terminal illness, or something equally devastating, we use the tool of bargaining as a way to cope with the continued onslaught of mental, emotional and spiritual anguish.
Stage #4 — Depression
Once we begin to fully wrap our minds around the enormity of the loss we just experienced, we often slip into a depression. This is usually associated with feelings of lonliness. We feel as if we’re left to battle some of the biggest hurdles in our lives and that no one is there that could possibly help us.
Of course, people do offer their assistance. But when you’re dealing with a loss so deep that it numbs you to the core, a person can’t say or do anything, for the most part, to help you snap out of it, so to speak. We go through stages of depression that tend to disturb our sleep and circadian cycles, along with our appetite and overall enthusiasm and energy to do just about anything.
We also often tend to wallow in self-pity. It strikes us right down to the core of who we are and it’s hard to bring ourselves back to reality. We keep dwelling on the what-ifs and should-haves in life, wondering how things could have or would have been different. It doesn’t help to bring the person back. But it does allow us to cope with the pain on another level.
Stage #5 — Acceptance
The final stage of grief and loss is acceptance. Once all the pain has subsided and we finished the deflection through denial and anger, and drudged through the bargaining and depression, we accept the fact that nothing can ever be as it was. We come to terms with the new status quo, as much as we might not want to.
Nothing can ever bring the person back or rewind the hands of time. It is only natural that we begin to accept what has happened. But more importantly, we learn from the experience. We learn about ourselves, and the meaning we attribute to our lives. It allows us to grow, shaping and molding us into more empathetic human beings.
Nobody wants to suffer through monumental grief and loss, but oftentimes, there’s little that we can do to avoid the fate that destiny might have in store for us. What we do have to do is appreciate what we have in the here and now, because tomorrow, it could all be gone in the blink of an eye.
Coping with Grief and Loss
Whatever stage of grief and loss you might be going through right about now, I feel for you. I know the pain that this inflicts. I know just how difficult it is to come out whole on the other side. We’re broken — shattered into a million little pieces. Nothing we can ever read or discover can completely fix that.
But, there are ways to help heal some of the pain. There are ways to find meaning in the wake of senselessness. There is a method to the madness of humanity and ill-fated events that tend to plague our lives. Most importantly, don’t give up on life because of what happened. Find the light at the end of the tunnel no matter how bleak it might seem today.
#1 — Walk through the pain
As much as it hurts and as painful as it might be, we have to walk through the pain. As we move through the stages of grief and loss, we must acknowledge the feelings, no matter how much they might overwhelm us at the time. It happens one day at a time. The present moment is all that matters.
Feel yourself walking through the pain. Feel yourself mentally lifting one foot after the other. It’s in that methodical train of thought that we can begin to extricate ourselves from the shackles of that grief. We can’t undo the past. We can’t change the events that have come and gone. We can only deal with the reverberations.
Find some good amidst the pain. Don’t try to avoid it. Feel the pain. Allow it to stifle you, but only momentarily. Feel yourself lifting up above it, emerging from the darkness. No matter how much it hurts, move through it. Allow yourself to feel it and experience it. Embrace it if you have to. But never run from it.
#2 — Avoid self-medicating
The worst way you can deal with grief and loss is by self-medicating. Do not self-medicate. No matter what deep-down urges might be calling your name, avoid them like the plague. The more you prolong dealing with the pain, the longer it will take to overcome, and the worse off you’ll be at the other end of it.
We tend to escape into substances when something cataclysmic happens in our lives. It becomes the crutch that we hold onto. We lean on it in an attempt to drown out our sorrows and turn a blind eye to the truth. But self-medicating will get us nowhere. Alcohol, prescriptions drugs, and recreational drugs will make things worse, not better.
If you have to, find a professional to speak to. Even if you feel like you don’t want to open that door right now because there is just too much pain, it’s important to allow another person in to peer inside and get a lay of the land. It’s far better than escapism. It’s far better than all those self-medicated alternatives.
#3 — Time heals all wounds
It’s true. Time heals all wounds. As cliche as it might sound, five years from now, the pain won’t be there. You might have a void left, but you’ll look back on this time and realize that however bad it was, it served a purpose. As painful as it is right now, something good will come out of it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in time it will.
We are just infinitesimal blips on the scale of life. Physically, we’re here for the blink of an eye. All things that exist, will cease to exist in the physical world. Our energy will carry on. But we are all just here for a very brief time. And it’s in time that those wounds will heal. As painful as it is to think about it right now, it’s the truth.
Whether you’ve lost someone that was your whole life, or some other devastating event transpired, I feel for you. I know that pain. I’ve lived it. I’ve breathed it. And it will pass. It does get better. Just take it one day at a time. Just worry about the present moment, and nothing else.
#4 — Forgiveness is the pathway to diminished anguish
We must learn to forgive. Forgiveness is the pathway to diminished anguish. In it’s place, let there be love. Don’t beat yourself up over things that you cannot change. You can’t alter the past. You can’t amend what’s already transpired. Forgive yourself. Forgive those around you. Anger and hate will get you nowhere.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up over what has happened. In fact, it’s part of the 5 stages of grief. But after it, we slip into a deep depression. The problem is that some people don’t come out of that depression, especially those that turn to self-medication as an alternative for coping with the pain.
Instead, love yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s not your fault. We cannot change what has happened. There is a reason for it. It’s buried somewhere that might not be visible right now, but it does exist.
#5 — Lean on others for support
We cannot always expect to go it alone, especially through the tough times. Lean on others around you for support. Look to them for a shoulder or a hand. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Whatever happened, no matter how bad it might have been, there are others who can help you walk through that pain rather than to avoid it.
Like the sun peering out after a day of torrential rain, our spirits will shine through, resilient as they might be. We embodiment of billions of years of incarnated energy. We have the spiritual capacity to endure a great deal. But that doesn’t mean that as physical beings that we have to suffer through pain alone.
Find someone out there that can support you. Find someone out there who will be around to assist you, whatever that might entail. Maybe it’s just a walk in the park. Maybe it’s a long chat over a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Allow them in. Allow others to help you, just as you would help them.
#6 — Find a way to contribute something to others
Sometimes, the best way to cope with grief and loss is to help others out there. What can you contribute to someone else? Even if only momentarily, that contribution can help heal you. If what you’re doing can make the lives of others out there just a little bit better, then you’ve served the greater good.
There are an endless array of people out there suffering. People like you and me that are forced to live in deplorable conditions. There are people enduring tyrannical rule, forced to live in oppression, constantly abused and afraid to speak their own mind about anything.
There are others that are starving and homeless, or suffering some other malady. It’s important to remember that although our grief might seem paramount, others are also going through difficulties. Others are dealing with loss. Contribute to those that are less fortunate and it will help you to heal little by little.
#7 — Journal your thoughts
Journal your thoughts. Describe your pain. What are you feeling? How are you reacting? What are you doing on this very day, right now? There’s a certain cathartic release in journaling. There’s something about writing out your thoughts and describing your feelings.
It might sound silly to some people. But it is the pathway to healing. It’s far easier to get a different perspective on the pain when you can look at it more objectively and it’s staring you right back in the eyes. Rather than obscure thoughts bouncing around in your, they are real and exact feelings, documented on paper in front of you.
Head out to the store and buy a nice journal that you can record your thoughts in. Do it the old fashioned way and write it out with pen and pad. Feel the release as you get it out on paper. You won’t heal overnight. But you will feel better. Find solace in the good times rather than dwelling on the bad ones.
#8 — Find a creative outlet
It’s hard to overcome grief and loss. It’s hard to focus on doing something other than worrying and crying. It’s hard not to fear the future or be anxious about the present moment. That’s okay. It’s part of the process. But you can and you will heal over time. One way to ensure that happens quicker is to find a creative outlet.
Pick something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time and immerse yourself in it. Maybe you’ve always wanted to paint. Maybe you’ve always wanted to dance or sing. Maybe you’ve always wanted to do something else that you’ve been passionate about but were too busy or caught up to do.
Well, now is the time to do it. There is no better time than the present moment. Get out there into the world. Don’t stay locked away inside for too long. Life is a journey. It’s not about the destination. It’s about discovering yourself and the meaning of your life and how you fit in to this beautiful, but strange world.