Personally, I’ve always considered myself a compassionate person — the type of friend, daughter, and girlfriend who leads with a sympathetic and empathetic foot forward when my loved ones need an ear, shoulder, hug, or hand held. This innate emotional urge sustains me and makes me feel like I’m doing my best to maintain an open heart policy, particularly when life hands us hard times.
But when working in the medical field, you are always put to various different kinds of tests, mentally and physically, that stretches much deeper than any Hallmark card sentiment can suit. Especially when working in hospitals, as nurses and doctors, we do our best to save lives and prevent the inevitable — death, but we aren’t Gods, so sometimes it’s unpreventable. But, we will always show empathy towards the patients’ family and grieve alongside them, it’s just the right thing to do, providing comfort for them.
There’s no formula for the grieving process but sometimes, I wonder — am I really doing this correctly? Is there a better way to help them through this difficult time?
While there are books and podcasts about processing grief yourself, there isn’t much in the way of a readily available roadmap on how to support someone else as they grieve. So, we did our research here at Messycafe — keep reading to see how she sheds light on the stages of loss, her suggestions for navigating the various types of grief, and what not to say when someone is in mourning.
What are the stages of grief?
People transition through sequential stages of emotions when experiencing loss.
The five stages are:
- Denial — “This can’t be happening to me.”
- Anger — “Why is this happening?”
- Bargaining — “If things could have been done differently or if I could do something now.”
- Depression — “I’m sad this is happening/happened.”
- Acceptance — “I understand and accept this is happening/happened.”
Grief is the body’s naturally occurring mechanism to process and reconcile pain, discomfort, and distressing emotions at the loss of something important, loved, desired, or attached to. Stages of grief are one way to observe and understand the range of experiences and emotions in this process across the human continuum and cultures.
Important to note is that not all experience grief in the same way. For many, the stages of grief are not linear or sequential but far messier and circular. Some experience some of the stages but not all. Some repeat the cycle many times, while others dance in and out and out of order throughout time.
Are there different types of grief?
Yes — many types of grief, depending on the situation, the timing of the loss, the circumstances surrounding the loss, and one’s response to the loss. While there are nearly a dozens types mentioned in scholarly writings, keep reading for some of the main types of grief experienced in one’s lifetime.
This includes periods of intense emotions as one moves through the stages of grief and gradually starts to accept the loss, with alleviating symptoms over time. Symptoms can range from crying, despair, insomnia, fatigue, withdrawal, avoidance, weight gain or loss, numbness, yearning, fear, loneliness, and a myriad of other emotions.
This type is experienced usually when one has had some leeway and time to prepare for their loved one’s death, usually in the case of a long-term illness. This type of grief can raise confusing and conflicting feelings as you “pre-grieve” someone who is still alive and arouse feelings of guilt for feeling relief upon their death.
Feelings that do not subside and create debilitating effects in functioning.
When symptoms of grief are not experienced until long after the one’s loss, where the pain of the loss is suppressed until symptoms present.
When a second or multiple experiences of loss are compounded and experienced in the same or near to the same time period.
When the experience of the primary loss impacts other elements surrounding the loss, for example when the loss of a parent also may trigger feelings of loss at their future wedding or life event experience, or the role a parent plays in their “script.”
What are the best things someone can do when a friend or loved one is in grief?
Personally, I like to use grief as a verb and say when one is “grieving” as it describes an active experience. There is no universal language for death or loss. Therefore, many of us flounder and avoid or become uncomfortable in the “comforting role” when a loved one or friend experiences loss. While “I am sorry for your loss” is most often what comes to mind for many followed by uncomfortable silence, here are some samples of phrases that I personally feel are more emotionally supportive and allow the recipient to feel your true presence and support. Below are a few examples that you can use:
- I loved how your (mom, husband, etc.) did this one thing… (share a positive memory.)
- You don’t have to talk… just sit… I am right beside you.
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Your life has been changed forever.
- I can’t imagine how you feel, but I am here.
- Tell me another about your (mother, friend, etc.)
- You can talk about your (husband, mom, etc) whenever you want – in 5, 10, 15 – 30 years from now.
- I have no words, this just sucks.
What are the things not to say to someone experiencing grief?
One of the suggestions I have is to not make it about your own experience. An example of what not to say might be, “I know how you feel, I lost my mom a few years ago.”
Another suggestion would be not to explain, minimize, or speed up one’s grief recovery. This might look like, “Look at all the other things you have to live for and be grateful for…”… or “Hey, let’s go do something fun and get your mind off of this for a while.”
Also, probably not a great idea to give a reason to the griever for the loss, for example, “Well, they lived a long life and it was their time…”
What are the best resources for when one is experiencing grief?
How does seeking third party help (therapy) help with the grieving process?
Third party help (counseling, acupuncture, massage, and other healing arts and practices) can aid in moving the energy of grief and sadness piled up overtime or at the onset, as these intense emotions can block, and weigh, and feel very burdensome. If we rely only on our loved ones for the support (who also may be experiencing their own level of grief both at the loss of the deceased but also the loss of their loved one who is grieving and less available), the support may not be adequate and may also be more charged and/or diluted. We want concentrated holistic professional services for life’s deepest and most intimate of experiences (grief being one of them) in order to be fully supported and heard and seen and guided, without the expectations that family and friends might have on our wellbeing strategies and timeline.
When is the right time to suggest therapy for a loved one experiencing grief?
Personally, I always encourage loved ones to be careful in how they “suggest” a “should” or “ought to” in reference to seeking therapy, as it is such a personal endeavor and one needs to seek rather than be told to. So, for a loved one who is concerned for their family member based on what they’re observing, noticing, hearing and experiencing, that seems beyond the normal expression of grief, or that persists, I would recommend they include sources for support “in general” as a resource, rather than a suggestion or prompt.
Something like, “I heard about this place that someone mentioned that helped through something similar to what you are going through. It’s called Austin Grief Counselors” or whatever the local place is.
“I read recently that walking and talking, or walk therapy really helped people through grief experiences. Could you imagine that being something that may support you?”
For a child or teen experiencing grief, do the same tips apply here as for an adult?
This depends on the developmental age of the child. By high school, teens can express their grief often in the form of anger while younger children may suppress the experience altogether and carry on with normal activities. Meet them where they are and be present with them and answer their questions gently. If they skip off with jubilation after a deep conversation, do not be alarmed. Be honest with them. Answer questions and talk openly with them without fear.
Grief is a part of our lives, it’s something as humans we will all eventually go through. Even though we can’t escape it, we can learn how to cope with it. Pain and grief are part of life; they’re part of love. The art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us. Hope this post will better help you to handle grief and better support your loved ones when they are going through a difficult time.