The loss of a Loved One

Stages of Grief

A grieving person frequently adopts some mannerisms or attitudes of the deceased, sometime mirroring the symptoms of a last illness. Minor aches and pains abound, and ills normally aggravated by stress worsen.

This involves feelings of emptiness, mutilation, or loss of part of oneself along with apathy, withdrawal, lack of energy, loss of appetite or overeating. Depression is a normal reaction to loss. This stage is often most severe and protracted in those who have trouble dealing with their anger and in those feelings toward their lost loved one were most ambivalent (a deep attachment alternating with hatred).

"I haven't thought of him/her for hours." Interest in human contact is reawakened, energy is resorted. The healing personality gradually adjusts to his/her new set of circumstances. Memories of the past become tolerable and even joyful. The stages of the grieving cycle are rarely chronologically distinct. Usually they overlap - minute by minute, hour by hour day by day. Attachment to the lost person slowly weakens. DENIAL:
"Oh, no - it can't be true." This stage may be a defense against too great a shock to the system. As gradual realization seeps in. ALARM / FEAR / NUMBNESS "What will I do now? This is so unreal." The human body reacts physically and mentally to drastic change. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, a feeling of disorientation, and other physiological signs of anxiety. The emotional numbness that sets in, often including an inability to cry, is an adaptive defense that helps the bereaved to cope with the immediate practical details.

The numbness gives way to feelings of abandonment, crying, insomnia, restlessness, loss of appetite, and inability to concentrate or make decisions.

Apparent in animals and humans, pining is the physical agony of grieving: the yearning for the loved one; the need to speak to him/her; to contemplate photographs, handle treasured objects and replay memories. Searching behavior can mitigate the pain somewhat: the bereaved looks for loved one or waits for his/her return; perhaps feels the presence of the loved one; sees them walking across a crowded street; hears their step on the stair or their key in the door. The searching stage tends to drop away early in the grieving process.

ANGER / GUILT: Anger at the departed alternates with feelings of guilt for being angry: "How could you leave me alone like this?" "If only I had done more..." These feelings are often translated into general irritability, a tenancy to blow up at well-meaning friends and/or a need to blame someone...the doctors, God, oneself.

It is a process that has a beginning and an end. The grieving cycle has recognized stages and symptoms. It is important to understand the purpose of "grief work" and to know that there is an end to the intense pain.


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