Grief is the process we go through when we lose a loved one or when a major change in our life occurs. To go through grief and mourning is disconcerting and painful, but at the same time it is a necessary process, as it helps us to make sense of the void left by the loss, and mourn his absence. This process generally follows a series of stages, which help us understand what has happened, express what we feel, and emotionally relocate the deceased person. The phases of mourning are the following:
- Accept the reality of the loss. When a loved one dies or we experience change and loss, the reality becomes so hard and heartbreaking that it is very difficult to assimilate. We enter a state of “shock” that numbs our emotions. This first stage is a greater challenge, since overcoming it implies facing the fact that this beloved person is no longer there, and that our life has completely changed. Our mind is not yet ready to assimilate what has happened, and we go through a phase of denial. Our new reality is so painful that, although we can think about it rationally, on an emotional level it is very difficult to understand the change that our life has suddenly given. When we are in this phase our mind “deceives us” and makes us hear his voice when we are at home, although we know it is impossible. This denial sometimes alternates with a feeling of rage or anger, in which we wonder why something so painful had to happen, or why life is so unfair. To accept the reality of the loss we must work the initial denial, that is, we must assimilate the loss at the cognitive level, understanding and accepting that the person is no longer there. For this it is good to remember the deceased person and talk about them, about their virtues, what bothered us about them, or how we met them. This helps us to be more aware of what has happened, and thus advance our grieving process.
- To process the pain of grief. Once we accept the reality of the loss, we come into contact with the underlying emotion, which is usually predominantly sadness. The denial that occurs in the first phase of grief serves to protect us from this sadness, that is, it is an attempt to avoid the suffering caused by the loss. However, if we stay hooked in the denial of pain, we keep making bigger our suffering by not coming into contact with what we really feel. This sadness can stay inside and accompany us for a long time if we can not get in touch with it and process it little by little. That is why we must work on the emotional impact that the loss causes us. We must identify and express the emotion we feel. The dissolution of this affection helps us to diminish gradually the pain that floods us. In addition, the emotional support of our relatives helps us enormously in this process, since it helps us to name our emotions and to verbalize them. Thus, we can externalize the feelings of guilt, loneliness, anguish, sadness that the loss of that beloved being has left us.
- To adjust to a world without the deceased. The emptiness left by a loved one is very great, and it makes the task of adapting to the change that it produces in our day to day difficult. The deceased carried out certain functions, developed certain roles, and gave meaning to some parts of our identity. This means that we must assume new responsibilities, develop new skills and even change our role at home or in our family. That is, we have to change in the environment implies adapting to a new routine and changing our roles and responsibilities. For example, we may suddenly be forced to keep the accounts at home, to have to cook for the family, or to take charge of the extracurricular activities of our children, when before we did not do it. Overcoming this change in the medium causes us to transform the perception of ourselves and our abilities.
- To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life. This is to relocate emotionally the deceased. To overcome the pain of loss and to continue with our life we look for a symbolic place where we emotionally relocate our loved one. It is about locating him in a place in our emotional history to be able to move forward in our life, and to feel that he is somehow part of who we are. The link with the deceased person continues, although in a different way. It is not about renouncing that person, but placing it in a suitable place on an emotional level that allows us to feel welfare and happiness again. A symbolic way of repositioning this person would be, for example, taking a picture of her with us. In this way we will be able to give a new perspective to the loss, and we will be able to feel a personal transformation in us.
The phases of mourning are not linear, but sometimes we jump from another. Each person needs their time and beats grieving at their own pace, spending more time in one phase than in another, or sometimes returning to a stage they thought they had overcome. Overcoming the loss of a loved one is a process of hard and intense transformation. After this painful experience we are not the same again, but we are transformed and we become different people. It is important to remember that it is possible to overcome it, and to feel well again, even if there are times when it does not seem so.
Worden, W. (1997) “The treatment of grief: psychological counseling and therapy”. Barcelona. Paidós