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First Steps to Conquer Overwhelming Grief

Grief is a multi-layered emotion. It can creep up on us slowly, it can hit us in the face, it can be a burden we carry every day on our shoulders. To be sure, grief can be unbearable and overwhelming at times. It can seem like your life will never return to anything that resembles normalcy. But at some point, most people learn to navigate their sorrow, taking comfort in the support of others around them, such as through bereavement services in San Mateo and elsewhere.

When loss first happens, the pain can seem insurmountable. Those first few baby steps to conquering grief can be the hardest. But the only way out is through. The first thing to realize is that grief is a natural process that occurs in response to the loss of someone you love, or something that was very important to you. Everyone grieves differently, but the common emotions people experience include sadness, loneliness, guilt, and even anger. Whether you lost a loved one in hospice after a long battle with cancer, or you got divorced, or you were let go from a beloved job, grief can set in and take hold.

Stages of Grief

While it’s true everyone grieves in different ways and at different paces, most people follow five stages of grief. Not everyone goes through them in the same order; some skip ones and move onto others; some go back and forth between stages.

Grief is extremely personal: it’s not linear, it’s not neat and tidy, and it doesn’t follow a set schedule or timeline, points out Healthline. You may withdraw, cry, break down, get angry and feel empty inside. None of these is wrong.

Denial is the first stage, representing the first steps to conquering overwhelming grief. During this stage, it’s normal to feel numb or shock — a defense mechanism that many humans have to guard against the unbearable reality that has befallen them. You may not believe it’s really happening to you. You may shut down, block people out, and let instinct and adrenaline take over as you make funeral plans, etc. This denial makes way for more time to gradually take in the news and start the process of understanding it.

Next up is anger, and this is the stage where reality creeps in and brings you face to face with the pervasiveness of the loss. This is when you can feel frustrated, helpless, hopeless, and angry. You may direct that anger at others and blame them, blame God, blame the world. You may even be angry with the loved one who left you in such a state. How could they leave you behind? How could they let go? Why did they leave you here to pick up the pieces? This anger can take the form of bitterness or resentment rather than outright fury and rage. Some people get stuck in this stage for a long time. But as you gradually emerge, you may start to think rationally about what happened.

This brings you to the next step in the progression: bargaining. This is when you start dwelling on the loss and what you could have done differently to have saved that person, relationship, job, etc. “If only” and “what if” are common phrases we repeat in our heads as we attempt to make a deal with God or other higher power, says WebMD. “If only I had insisted he see the doctor sooner, he may still be here” or “I would do anything to have him back.” Making promises to God is common, asking for them back in return for relief from the overwhelming emotions you are experiencing. This is a vulnerable and helpless stage as you attempt to regain control of the situation. Just like denial and anger in the first two stages, bargaining is yet another defense mechanism that separates you from the confusion and sadness.

Depression sets in after bargaining when you realize the loss is real and that it will impact the rest of your life. How can you ever be happy again? How can you find joy in a world where your loved one is no longer a part of it? Signs of depression include intense sadness, crying, difficulty sleeping, regret, guilt, loneliness, and decreased appetite. Whereas the first stages of grief are active, this is a quieter stage. You may feel confused, lethargic, foggy, or out of touch. You may stop seeing friends and family. You may withdraw from social situations as the full awareness of the loss bears down on you. Many people stagnate in this stage, which can lead to complicated grief.

Whereas normal grief symptoms will begin to fade with time, the symptoms of complicated grief stick around or worsen. The Mayo Clinic equates it with being in a heightened, ongoing state of mourning that prevents you from fully healing. Signs may include intense pain and sorrow, continued rumination over the loss, persistent focus on reminders of the person lost, detachment, extreme pining and longing, and inability to enjoy any other aspect of life except the loss.

The last stage is acceptance, which is when you have come to terms with the reality of the loss and can begin to move on. Of course, the loss won’t change. You will always feel some semblance of grief and sadness, but its form will change many times over the years. Even burdened with sadness, you can start to move forward with your life.

Those first couple of steps can be the hardest to conquer grief, but please know there is help out there for you through all stages.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

To help those conquer grief after a loss, we offer bereavement services for family members, ranging from support groups and counseling to workshops and memorials. Our team can help you navigate the grief you are feeling after losing a loved one. Contact us at 888-978-1306 to find out more.