Managing Grief and Loss

Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone or something. Examples of loss include the death of a loved one, retirement, a child transitioning out of the house, financial loss, loss of a physical attribute, a home foreclosure, or loss of a relationship. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grieving process can be. How you grieve depends on many factors including the nature of the loss, your coping mechanisms, your understanding of the grief and loss process, and your spiritual belief system. The important thing to remember is that healing from any loss can take time and the amount of time will vary from person to person.

Common Emotions and Sensations Experienced During the Grief and Loss Process

The following are examples of the most common feelings and sensations people tend to experience during the grief and loss process:

Disbelief – Many people have a difficult time accepting the loss and may act as if it never happened, others may just feel numb

Sadness – Sadness tends to be the most common symptom of grief. This feeling can manifest as despair, intense loneliness, or feeling empty. As a result of the sadness, many people cry and feel emotionally vulnerable

Guilt - It is normal for many people to feel guilty about things that they did not say or do before the loss. It is also normal for people to feel guilty about certain feelings like being relieved about a person passing away after dealing with a long and difficult illness.  Some people also feel as if they could have done something to prevent the loss even if they did all they could.

Anger - Some people feel angry and resentful at themselves or another for the loss even if it was no one’s fault.

Fear -  For many, loss can trigger a fear response that can result in anxiety and hopelessness that may even lead to a panic attack.  For some, the fear may be related to not knowing how they will continue to function with the loss and for others, the fear may be connected to not knowing how they will manage the emotions related to the loss.

Physical symptoms – There are a variety of physical problems connected to loss and may include the following: having difficulty remembering things, feeling tired, gaining or losing weight, not being able to sleep, experiencing physical aches and pains.

Stages of Grief

Different models have been developed to describe the stages individuals go through during the grief and loss resolution process. One of the more common models that is used to describe this process was developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. The stages of her model are summarized below.

  • Denial: This did not happen
  • Anger: I am angry that this happened
  • Bargaining: I will do ____ to reverse what happened.
  • Depression: I am feeling great despair that this happened.
  • Acceptance: I am okay that this happened.

This model can be used to help you understand the grief and loss process, but it is not meant to define your process. You may go through some of these stages or you may not go through any of these stages. It is not necessary for you to move through these stages in order to heal, but referencing this model, might help you to better understand your experience.

Overall, your process will most likely be full of ups and downs and highs and lows. The lows may be more intense and severe in the beginning, but should become less intense and shorter as time goes by.  If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem requiring a more intensive intervention.

EMDR can help when you get stuck in the grief and loss resolution process

Letting go of something on an emotional and cognitive level is difficult for most people and it is normal to seek assistance to help you move through this process. If you are having difficulty overcoming a loss in your life and feel as if it is impacting your current well-being, EMDR may be a way to help you recover from the loss in a healthy and productive manner that is individualized to meet your needs.

If you are experiencing any of the following while grieving the loss of something important, it could be a sign that you could benefit from EMDR treatment:

  • intense longing for what was lost  – ” I need this person/item to be whole”
  • inability to manage recurrent thoughts of the loss – “I can not stop thinking about the loss”
  • prolonged avoidance of things that remind one of the loss – ” I can never go to that place again”
  • extreme anger or bitterness over the loss – ” This has ruined my life”
  • inability to function at home, work, or school  – “I can not function”
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness – “I did nothing to prevent this loss”
  • pervasive sense of guilt – “This is all my fault”
  • thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with dying – “I cannot go on”
  • inability to engage in physical activities as before the loss – “I cannot function”
  • inability to move forward in life – “I will never be able to trust anyone again”