Although grief involves a sense of agonizing, inescapable anguish, different people might describe it as a sense of dejection or despair, too. Distress, heartache, heartbreak, misery, physical and emotional pain, sadness, sorrow, torment, suffering, and even woe are words that some grief-stricken people use to describe their grief. It all depends on how the sadness affects them, and how intensely. But no matter what you else you call it, grief is a complicated response to loss, especially to the loss of someone or something with whom you shared an important goal, a bond, a relationship, or a deep affection. A move, a death, or some other sort of separation can bring on a sense of the griever’s own partial death, and/or of an unwanted ending. No matter the vocabulary, though, grief-stricken people feel inconsolable, that the person, pet, cause or item that they lost is irreplaceable, that life can’t go on as it did before. Perhaps those people feel that they can’t go on at all, either. Even animals are known to suffer grief, and to react as profoundly to their sadness as do humans.
Grief is a profound, life-changing sensation and situation. The aftermath of a disrupted relationship to which half its membership can’t respond spontaneously any more, grief is an unshared burden. But that doesn’t necessarily stop the griever from eventually putting the relationship into a nurturing, peace-inducing perspective. They can choose to see life as viable once again. Let’s look at how some grieving people, and animals, overcome the emotional load of loss, its negative effects on their bodies and on their minds.
Recovery/Acceptance is a Process Timed to the Individual
Grief is a biological and psychological response to deep unhappiness. Pain from simple bumps and scratches during the grieving process might feel worse than called for. Hunger might go unnoticed or untended. Chronic health problems might worsen during a grieving period. Upset digestive systems might ensue. Those and other health issues might arise due to the chemical changes within a grieving person’s body. The downward spiral can be stopped, but only in specific ways. The person who needs to recover from grief needs the passage of time and compassion to succeed at viewing and rejoining life in a more pleasant manner. It is about making the choice to go on with life, not to retreat from it.
Remarks such as “Snap out of it” and “You have no right to feel this way” insult the grieving person. The response to the insult might be to stop communicating with the insulting person or worse. Emotions do not respond to commands, nor do they have automatic shelf lives. A person is not a robot. People require the opportunity to put a loss into perspective as part of a larger picture. They progress at their own rate of speed, not someone else’s. Trying to force someone out of feeling their true emotions is an invitation for those emotions to deteriorate.
The Phases of Grief
We know from research about the phenomenon of grief that there are distinct phases such as anger, bargaining, denial, depression, guilt/pain, hope, and eventually acceptance – or the lack of it. Those phases, sometimes called “stages,” of grief, happen in and out of sequence. They can also repeat on an unpredictable timetable and in a surprising manner. Each person has an individual, though recognizable, response to grief.
As the grieving process continues toward acceptance of the situation, insights are gained. The realization that the griever has a “new normal” might come to mind, and thus the effort to adjust to or to reconstruct a shattered state of mind will follow. Good days and bad days will be part of the package, and that’s why anyone who respects the grieving person would be wise to bless them with compassion. Allowing, coaxing, and praising a person’s progress are compassionate responses to someone’s sense of grief.
What if Acceptance Doesn’t Happen?
If a person does not reach a state of acceptance or a sense of hope in the future, then psychotherapy is called for. Trained therapists can facilitate known solutions to the grieving person’s lack of resolution/acceptance. Talented friends can fill that therapeutic role with acceptance, love, and confidentiality.
Think of all the sweet stories you’ve heard about, or videos that you’ve seen, regarding grief-stricken animals comforted by their peers or by humans skilled at communicating with them. Compassion and patience are the important elements of the healing process for animals just as they are for people; emotions are emotions. But when we focus on human grief it is critically important to remember that therapeutic input becomes necessary in the event that a compassionate friendship does not provide the help that a grieving person needs. A mental health professional can prevent worsening symptoms and life-threatening developments such as self-harming and suicide.
When you want to reach out to help a grieving person who just doesn’t seem to be getting over a loss, do what you can to pleasantly coax them to interact with a counselor who can help them to see that life can be worth living again. Your loving message can become of those things “worth living for.”