Grieving the loss of a loved one is a difficult and emotional process. The journey can be scary, painful and lonely, and it's easy to feel that nothing anyone does or says can take away from the pain you feel.
You might have heard the phrase "time heals all wounds." In reality, it is not time that will facilitate healing but an individual's navigation through the grief process and awareness of its impact. Consider the following information to find comfort and understanding as you move forward in your healing process.
What you may feel
There are a variety of feelings that a person can experience when facing the loss of a loved one. Grief is like a roller coaster: it is often chaotic and cyclical, up and down, and sometimes leaves you feeling inside out. There are good days and bad days.
Although everyone experiences grief differently, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The following "symptoms of grief" are common emotions and reactions, and do not occur in any specific order:
- Denial - It's normal to deny the reality of a situation in which you have lost a loved one. It might feel like the person can't really be gone or will appear again at any moment. This reaction is natural in the face of overwhelming emotions. Numbness and disbelief help you keep going and protect you from falling into a state of shock.
- Anger - Anger towards a higher power, family member, friend or your deceased loved one is a common reaction when being faced with loss. Anger following a loss usually comes from strong feelings of not being ready to say goodbye or of being resentful of the person who has passed away - as if it were an intentional infliction of pain.
- Guilt - You may wonder if you could have prevented your loss in some way. "If only I had..." usually begins these sentences, but they end in an unfair pinning of responsibility. Guilt includes a sense that somehow you might have made things better or the idea that you could have kept your loved one alive. You might feel guilty about unresolved conflicts or things that were left unsaid and without resolution.
- Depression - The sense of purposelessness, unfairness and mourning that accompanies the loss of a loved one, like depression, is a natural reaction. You might feel hopeless or find it difficult to concentrate. It might seem difficult just to make it through the day with profound feelings of sadness interrupting everything you do.
- Acceptance - Acceptance is the result of embracing, and allowing yourself to experience, each emotion as it surges over you. This emotional state is often marked with a sense of calm and peace, though not necessarily happiness and contentment. It involves adjusting to living in a world without the person you lost.
Coping with loss
It's important to be especially kind to yourself as you move through the grieving process. Here are a few suggestions that may help you bear this emotional burden:
- Let yourself feel your emotions. If you are busy helping other family members or friends adjust, set aside some time when you can think about your own loss. Avoiding or brushing aside your emotions does not make them go away.
- Know that loss affects everyone differently. Each person experiences loss in a different way. Some might want to share stories and talk about your loved one right away, while others might not be ready to.
- Consider joining a support group. Talking with others who have lost a loved one may help you feel less alone. Look into support groups in your local community for individuals who have experienced a similar loss. These groups often list their meetings in the events calendar of a community newspaper or local hospital.
- Ask for help if you are having difficulty managing your feelings. Many people underestimate the grief that follows the loss of a loved one. If you feel alone, or are having trouble navigating your emotions, a therapist or counselor can help you find resources and support.
How long will grief last?
It's natural to hope for a simple solution or formula when it comes to grieving the loss of a loved one. But there is no time limit on your emotions. Each person will experience the highs and lows of the grief process for a different period of time.
The only answer that applies to everyone is that these feelings and depressive emotions won't last forever. And while you will always have emotions tied to the person who has passed away, these emotions won't always be painful or unpleasant.
Resources and support
No one has to struggle alone. Sharing your grief with family and friends and reaching out to clergy or counselors can be productive and therapeutic. Keep in mind that though friends and family can provide an enormous amount of support, you may find that you wish to talk with a counselor or a professional therapist instead. There is never any shame or weakness in seeking help, especially during a period of great stress and sadness.
- Military OneSource can help provide you with further resources and can help you connect with a counselor.
- Military and family life counselors are also available to provide non-medical counseling services, and can be contacted through your installation's military and family support center.
- To learn about grief support, visit the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a national organization that offers a broad range of support, mentoring, and other services to those grieving the loss of a loved one whose death occurred while serving in the military. You can also find service branch specific support on the Military OneSource "Casualty Assistance" web page.
The death of a loved one can be a significant and deeply challenging loss, but there are a number of resources available to you throughout your grief process. By drawing on your own strengths and the support of others, you can move forward and while keeping the memory of your loved one alive in your heart.