With loss comes grief and with loss comes change as well. We have all experienced some form of loss: the death of a friend or loved one; divorce; illness of self or others; or an endless list of personal setbacks. Loss is a very real part of life for everyone at one time or another.
The natural process of healing and recovery entails experiencing grief in one form or another. “Healthy grief” is a natural process that endures for a period of time and is influenced by the degree of importance and self-identification we share with our loss. The grief process differs from individual to individual and from one loss to another.
Regardless of the order in which they occur, various stages will be experienced during the grief process. There is denial and shock, anger, guilt, depression, anxiety, acceptance, and finally, healing. There is no set pattern or predictability in the stages of grief; as listed by experts, and not all experience all these emotions.
Denial and shock are usually the first stage of a loss. A person may use denial to avoid pain and gradually let the feelings of pain come slowly.
Anger: A person may feel anger in his or her inability to prevent the loss. Anger can be difficult to express; but if suppressed, it can lead to feelings of guilt.
Guilt: It is natural to blame ourselves for something we did or did not do. We bring guilt on ourselves for a variety of losses. We must accept that certain events are beyond our control and that we could not have done anything to prevent the loss.
Depression is the primary reaction to loss. It is also the longest lasting phase of grief. As grief lessens, depression usually fades.
Anxiety is another phase of grief. Fear of being alone; fear of losing another loved one; and fear of change are common symptoms.
Acceptance: At some point, most of us reach the stage of acceptance. With the lessening of pain, we can accept our loss. Physical and behavioral symptoms also are relieved.
Physical, behavioral and spiritual reactions:
There are physical effects that accompany grief. These physical symptoms are also a normal part of the grief process. One may experience tightness in the chest, over-sensitivity to noise, headache, fatigue or lack of energy, shortness of breath, weakness in legs or arms, feelings of emptiness, etc.
There are also behavioral reactions to grief. These are also a normal part of the grieving process. They can include appetite and sleep disturbance; absentmindedness; social withdrawal; avoiding or, the direct opposite, clinging to reminders of loss; restlessness; crying; suicidal thoughts; increased alcohol and/or drug use; etc.
Spiritual reactions are often more subtle and may even go unnoticed. There can be a sense of disconnectedness from God, self and others; of separation and/or abandonment; or inability to pray.
Those who recover from their loss learn that they have become stronger and more resilient to life’s setbacks.
Here are some guidelines that may help the grieving process towards recovery:
1. Sometimes you may want to be alone, but it is important to balance this with company also.
2. Talk about your loss. Some people may avoid the subject in fear of being hurtful. Explain your need to talk.
3. When someone volunteers to help, give them a specific request—for example, to bring food, to babysit, etc.
4. Prepare for yahrzeits and holidays. Make it a point to spend this painful time with family or friends.
5. Take care of your own health. Eating well and exercising are excellent ways to alleviate some of the physical and/or behavioral effects of grief.
6. Indulge yourself with some simple pleasures that you enjoy: such as going to a movie or a ball game.
7.. Join a support group.
May we all be spared further sorrow as an end comes to this difficult period for the entire world.
Rabbi Rosenberg is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth-El, Edison, N.J. and received his ordination and Doctorate of Education from Yeshiva University in New York. He is a prolific author and has received many awards, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.