Every death is different, and every relationship is different, which makes the experience of loss and grief different for everyone.
Grief is a journey, and when someone dies, those of us who mourn will take that journey in a unique way. It’s a journey through some of the most emotionally intense and painful passages of life, and sometimes it will seem as if nothing and no one can help. However, there are some common guidelines that can be an anchor to anyone who is suffering through loss.
The bottom line: grief takes as long as it takes. There is no right way to grieve—there is just your way.
For centuries, death was woven into the fabric of life. People were born at home and died at home, and families and cultures developed rituals to help them deal with the loss.
However, in the past century, as death moved into hospitals and mortuaries, people be- came more removed from death. For many people, this made the process of grieving and healing much more difficult.
But we are coming back around to understanding. Books, grief counseling, the growth of the hospice movement and personal rituals all attest to how we are confronting death in new ways.
On a personal level, losing some- one we love can leave us lost and unsure of what to do next. Although there are no rules to the grieving process, there are guidelines that can make the journey easier. Grief falls into roughly four stages: shock and numbness; searching and yearning; disorientation and disorganization, and reorganization (or healing).
During any of these stages:
• Don’t expect too much of yourself, at least not for awhile.
• Be gentle with yourself, and let go of ideas of the “right” thing to do or the “right” way to behave.
• Seek support. Ask friends to help you—with practical details, as well as just by sitting and listening.
• Don’t be afraid to talk about your loss and about the person who has died. This is an im- portant part of the grieving process. When it comes to death, silence is not always golden. If a friend is uncomfortable with your stories, find friends who can be there.
• Don’t be afraid to seek help if your pain or depression becomes more than you can bear. Sometimes our friends can’t give us the help and support we need.
• Remember that a person dies, but a relationship doesn’t. Although the person you loved is gone, he or she lives on in you.
In Awakening from Grief: Finding the Way Back to Joy, author John Welshons calls death a great teacher for the living and a gift to help us live deeper lives.
“Nothing inspires us,” he says, “to want to find true happiness more ef- fectively than thinking about our own mortality, and nothing else can communicate the urgency with which we need to pursue deeper levels of love and the sense of being fully alive.”