The loss of a loved one is never an easy experience. No matter what the relationship was with them in life, the sometimes-sudden loss can leave an emptiness that is hard to fill and takes long to heal. Words that could have been said can no longer be said, and any ongoing arguments are stopped short, often denied a satisfying resolution. Grief is an experience that impacts our lives in a very strong way. Many are familiar with psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s work on grief and loss. In her theory, she suggests that there are five stages we experience when we lose someone: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is a very useful theory, and can be expanded to other forms of loss, such as the loss of a life dream, career, and others.
Apart from these stages we go through as we process grief, however, there are other things we should be aware of. Thus, here are four things we should know about grief:
- It can lead to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Bereavement is a very intense and personal experience. Perhaps due to how personal it is, it can leave the bereaved feeling very isolated – feeling that others could not possibly understand what they are going through. This is further complicated by the fact that in many ways they are right. It can be a very tough time for the bereaved and they can feel cut off from the rest of the world. This can be unhealthy, however, and it’s good to keep in mind any friends who have suffered a loss, especially if they do not have much support.
- It can put immense strain on relationships.
Different people grieve in different ways: some may grieve in a more emotional and open way – focusing on the loss and the emotions behind it as a way of processing, while others may grieve by busying themselves with things to do and repress the emotion. The stereotype is that females grieve in a more emotional way and males through repression, though this is not always true. If a couple’s grieving styles are so diametrically opposed, it can cause a lot of strain in the relationship and many marriages break up after the loss of a child. This can also cause friction between siblings in the loss of a parent as well, for example with those who grieve more openly accusing the other of not caring, and those who grieve through repression accusing the other of wallowing for too long.
- It can stir up a lot of fears that have been avoided.
Everything that is living is destined to die. This is a fact that everyone knows on a cognitive level and that many avoid thinking about. It is a fact that affects our lives to a lesser or greater extent, and in ways that can be very subtle and disguised many times over. It often happens, however, that when we suffer a loss, this fact of life takes centre stage and affects us in a more profound, visceral way. It can make us deeply aware of our own mortality, and that of others who are precious to us. This (un)conscious fear of death is so impactful that it is one of the central issues relevant to existential philosophy and existential therapy modalities.
- It can lead to us retreating from those who are, or could become, close to us.
Following on from the previous point (3), some might resort to emotionally distancing themselves from others to avoid experiencing the pain of loss again. This can be especially relevant when a significant loss or losses occur early in life, where being emotionally distant may become a pervasive defensive mechanism. This can lead to having trouble forming close relationships, be it romantic relationships or even friendships.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Nigel Borg is a biology teacher and psychology graduate currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy with the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM).
Clarke, J. (2021, February 12). The Five Stages of Grief. Retrieved from verywellmind website: https://www.verywellmind.com/five-stages-of-grief-4175361
Yalom, I. D. (1999). Momma and the Meaning of Life. London: Piatkus.