This week, I've been feeling heavy. Not like I've put on weight, but world-weary heavy. It took me a while to figure out why I was feeling this way, but yesterday it dawned on me. In the first 4 days of the week, I have heard about 3 different deaths that are in my personal "orbit."
The first death was a 13 year-old boy who lost his battle with brain cancer. I didn't know the boy, but one of his good friends is the daughter of one of my friends. I felt like I knew him because of all of the details about his wonderful, upbeat personality, even in the face of cancer, were relayed to me by numerous people. His funeral was held at a Catholic church that seats about 1,800 people; it was standing room only.
The second death was conveyed to me by a client, who said that one of her best friends had been trying for years to get pregnant. She finally did, but had a miscarriage at around 8 weeks. Many people don't think of a miscarriage as a death, but I beg to differ. The people that I have worked with that have gone through them mourn their loss just as if an older child had died. Even in utero, bonds between mother and baby form. This hit me, not because my client's friend is known to me, but because my client herself had a late-term miscarriage that I had helped her though.
The third death was very personal. I had rescued an injured Pied-Billed Grebe from my swimming pool and driven it 30 miles each way to a Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. They gave me a code and told me I could email them to check on the little guy's progress. When they emailed me back, it was to say that despite their efforts, he passed away. No, it wasn't a person, but somehow I felt some responsibility for the little bird.
Death. It happens to every single living thing. It can depend on what you believe happens after death as to how you grieve. I have had a client lose her 20 year-old son in a work accident get through everything by believing that he,"was in a better place now." But just because she believed that he was pain and suffering-free didn't mean that she was. Death is harder on the survivors. That's why we have rituals such as funerals, wakes and memorials; we seek closure there.
Pioneer Elizabeth Kübler Ross, MD wrote a book in 1969 entitled On Death and Dying. In it, she introduced the 5 stages of grief that are still widely referred to today. While Kübler-Ross was primarily talking about the stages that people go through while facing a terminal diagnosis themselves, it has been found that her stages apply to survivors of any loss: death, divorce, a job, death of a pet, going into addiction recovery and even losing a sentimental thing.
In my 10+ years of experience, every client that I have seen that is dealing with a loss goes through at least 4 of the 5 stages: denial, depression, anger and acceptance. They may go through them in a different order, go through the same stage twice or more and may even "skip" a stage, but each stage is very identifiable as clients tell me how they feel.
The worst thing a person can do is to not acknowledge their feelings at all after a loss. There will be a period of time after the loss when many feelings come bubbling up. If you allow yourself to feel them, you will process through them and eventually arrive at acceptance. However, if you're having a hard time with your grief or the period of grieving has lasted longer than you think it needs to, it's time to seek professional help. There is no "normal" time for grieving. Some people go through it quickly, while others may take a year or even two to reach acceptance. But if your grief is hindering other areas of your life, you may need to talk to someone. It takes a lot of courage to seek help, but you're worth it!
Here are some national resources, which can point you to local ones: