Unfortunately, when it comes to losing people that we love, our emotions are usually uncontrollable for a long time afterwards.
There is never a good time to lose the people we love most, but in this period of great uncertainty and fear, somehow the loss of a loved one seems more amplified because of the short time involved between diagnosis and loss.
One minute they are here with us, the next lost, in an untimely manner.
So how do we as human beings deal with and cope with such painful emotions?
After the initial shock where we are left feeling numb and inconsolable in our sadness, we go through a very difficult process indeed, described as the ‘Grieving Process’.
The Grieving Process
This process we invariably go through comprises of five stages. There is no time frame for each stage, and sometimes we can flip back to a stage which we have already experienced previously.
The five stages of bereavement that we go through are:
Let’s look at them in greater detail to understand what they mean.
Denial is the first stage that hits us. We are consumed with feelings of disbelief and non-acceptance, where we struggle to understand what has happened and we struggle to believe what we have just experienced.
We ask ourselves questions like this: “How could this have happened?”
We say things like, “This can’t be true!” “Surely it’s a mistake,” and “I don’t believe this is happening.”
After Denial we experience Anger. This is perhaps the most destructive stage we go through. The pain hits us and we then lash out, looking to blame someone or something as we struggle to cope with our loss.
These are the types of things we say when we are angry, and the types of questions we ask at this stage of the process: “I need to find who’s at fault.”
Or, “Someone needs to pay for this!” We want to know, “Whose fault is this?”, and “Where can I find out who is to blame?”
During this stage, we question what has happened and try to work out if things could have been done differently. We look for answers, and we look for reasons as we try to work out what has happened and why.
Our brains try to make sense of what has happened, as we try to apply some logic to an illogical situation.
This is how we try to understand, work out and process what has happened to us: “Could I have done something differently?” “What if we had tried that instead?”
We think, “If only I did this and not that,” and “Maybe the outcome would have been different if we didn’t do what we did.”
The part of the Grieving Process which is the most painful is the Depression stage. We are left empty and distraught as the gravity of our loss hits us.
We are numb with pain, and we struggle to think clearly as we are enveloped in utter sadness and emotional pain. We cry. We distance ourselves from other people. And we are consumed in our own world of loss and emptiness.
We can’t think about anything other than our loss, as we function on ‘auto -pilot’, not really being aware of what we are doing and why. It’s as if our brains shut down and function at a bare minimum.
Some people struggle to sleep, while for others, they struggle to wake up as they sleep excessively as a way to cope with the pain. Normal day-to-day living stops as we live in a zombie like state until we reach the final stage of the whole process.
After the turmoil of the previous four stages, the brain fog starts to lift, and we begin to come to terms with our loss. Reaching this stage can take many weeks, and in fact many months. In extreme cases, it can take a number of years before we can fully accept our loss.
In this stage, our emotions have died down. We can begin to function normally again to a degree, and we can start to live our lives with new dreams and hopes as we realize that our own lives have to carry on in one way or another.
In some cases, we look to celebrate the life of the person we have lost, and we look to make them proud of us as their memory lives on in us.
Some people believe we never truly get over a loss, we just learn to live with it. And that may be the case indeed. We just stop being as emotional as we were before. It is almost as if our brains wake up again after a dark cloud has been lifted.
Again, there is no time frame for this phase to happen. It will usually take us many months before we get to the stage of true Acceptance.
Losing someone in tragic circumstances is a shock to our system, as we struggle to deal with what has happened.
For close knit families, and for loved ones, the pain of loss is unbearable.
The sad thing right now in the world is that with a global pandemic, people are also fearful for their own safety, so they are struggling to deal with a negative maelstrom of emotions that relate both to themselves, and to what is happening around them.
Talking to someone is very important in this process. Different people are ready at different times and at different stages, so don’t suffer in silence.
There is no shame in asking for help, and it is not a sign of weakness if you are struggling and you need help. In fact, it is a sign of great strength to reach out to someone in your hour of need and to ask for clarity and support during the whole Grieving Process.
Whatever your cultural background, and whether you are religious or not, understand that there is nothing wrong with you if you are truly suffering and struggling.
As human beings we all go through the same emotional processes when we experience some sort of loss, especially bereavement.
So, if you have recently lost someone, especially through this viral pandemic, understand that it isn’t easy to stay strong, and that it is okay to look for other people to help you.
Sending out my deepest condolences to everyone affected, and to those who have lost loved ones, especially in these difficult times.
May their souls rest in peace.
Dr D.U. Sivri is a UK-qualified, professionally insured psychotherapist who works with all types of counselling, coaching and therapy. Born in London, Dr Sivri’s unique, eclectic style of therapy has helped hundreds of people from all over the world find resolution to their problems. He has published multiple books, and is a regular media commentator on human behaviour, and emotional/psychological issues and management.
Dr Sivri is also T-VINE’s new agony uncle (‘Ask Your Abi’). If you have a problem, email firstname.lastname@example.org and he will try to answer.
Main image, top, of lit candles in Rome. Photo © Mike Labrum / Unsplash