Life after death: coping with bereavement

The three stages of grieving Sunday, March 04, 2007

When someone close to us dies, it can sometimes feel as if we’ll never get over the loss. As much as death is a part of life for everyone, it is also one of the most difficult things to cope with. But getting through grief and being able to move on with life is essential to our mental health and well-being. Fortunately, there are reasonably predictable stages of grief.

An important thing to understand is that it is necessary to grieve a loss. It’s tempting to try to find ways to step around grief, but the reality is you only get to the other side of grief by walking right through the middle of it.

The three stages of grieving

“You only get to the other side of grief by walking right through the middle of it.”

Even though grief is a process everyone goes through, no two people go through it exactly the same way. The way you show grief may depend on your culture, and how much grief you feel can depend on your relationship with the person who died.

Children show and feel grief differently than adults do and they may also need help to understand death. Losing a spouse can involve many practical as well as emotional upheavals. Despite the diversity of how people experience grief, there are three basic stages of grieving, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), though you may go back and forth between them for a long time:

1. Shock
Some people will say they didn’t even cry when someone they loved died. In fact, they might not have cried for days or weeks after. Shock and numbness are the typical immediate responses to the death of a loved one—even when the death was prepared for (because in reality, nothing can ever completely prepare you for the death of someone close to you). People who have been through this stage describe it as going through the motions, and it’s a protective stage that helps a mourner get through the intensity and the busyness of the early post-death days. The numbness can last for weeks or even months.

2. Disorganization
After the numbness comes the emotion, and it can come in many shapes and forms: exhaustion, anxiety, sadness and weepiness, moodiness, depression, loss of control, feeling withdrawn. This can, and should be a time of coming to terms not only with the loss but also with the relationship you had with the person. This can be especially difficult if there were problems that had not been resolved before the death. You may experience some of these feelings for many months, and sometimes even for years.

3. Reorganization
The loss of someone you love is not something you ever get over entirely. But eventually, there will come a day when you do recognize yourself again—when you are out with friends and realize you’ve had a wonderful time, or when you notice that you are appreciating day-to-day activities again.

Illustration of a journal and pen

How to help yourself

There are some ways that you can support yourself during the process of grieving:

* Take care of your health. The stress response of losing someone you love may have an impact on your immune system. Make sure to eat well, keep up with regular exercise and get plenty of sleep.

* Don’t be afraid to express how you feel by talking, crying, writing. Expressing feelings helps healing.

* Reach out to family and friends. Help others understand what you need.

* Avoid making major changes, at least for the first several months.

* Be patient with yourself and with the process. It takes time but life will get better.

If you feel you need more assistance, speak with your family doctor or other health professional. You can also contact the Canadian Mental Health Association location near you.

Grieving is natural and normal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Date published: March 1, 2007

BulletThis article was prepared by Toronto journalist Nora Underwood and reviewed by The Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Health Network Mental Health Affiliate.

(article from the Public Health Agency of Canada)
Posted by Jennifer Forbes at 10:17 PM
ennifer Forbes
Born and raised in Saskatchewan. Attended the University of Ottawa for communications and psychology. Working in marketing, public relations and health promotion. Personally affected by mental illness and now an advocate for mental health.

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