Questions about Grief
Every person is different, and so is their grieving process. Each person will follow a different path toward healing. Although there is no right or wrong amount of time to complete the grieving process, many experts agree that it is not unusual to take at least a year to move through it.
The duration of the mourning process can also be influenced by your relationship to the deceased, the amount of support you receive, and other factors.
As more time passes, your grief will begin to recede to some extent. However, if you find your grief is persistent and disruptive to the point that it impacts your daily functions, please seek counseling.
Active Duty Service Members:
Bereavement, or grief, counseling is available at Veterans Affairs (VA) centers to all family members of a service member who dies while on active duty. This includes spouses, children, parents, and siblings of the deceased.
Contact the VA at 202-461-6530 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information on bereavement counseling.
If a veteran dies unexpectedly, or dies while in a VA hospice or similar program, the immediate family members are eligible for bereavement counseling if they have already been receiving family support services in connection with the veteran’s treatment plan. This bereavement counseling may be authorized up to 60 days, unless an extension is approved by a VA medical center director.
For information about this bereavement counseling, contact the Social Work Service at the VA medical center located in your area.
Every person is unique in the way he or she handles the loss of a loved one. While the grieving process is different for each of us, we all experience some common feelings as we work toward healing from our loss.
Our responses to the different feelings that occur during the grieving process are often described as “stages.” These stages are not tied to real time, and people do not necessarily move in and out of the stages in an orderly, straightforward way. Stages can last for minutes or hours. It is not unusual to move into and out of one stage and then to another, and cycle back again to the previous stage. You may find yourself repeating this process a number of times as you continue to work through your grief.
The Kübler-Ross model, popularly known as the five stages of grief, was first introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The are five commonly observed stages that many people experience during the grieving process are, chronologically, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial. At the beginning, you may feel a sense of detachment, shock, or numbness. You may even wonder why you are not more upset over your loss. This feeling of disconnection is a survival response. It is simply nature’s way of helping you to continue to function on a basic level while under extreme stress. Denial is a tool that unconsciously enables you to do the things that are necessary to carry on with your life in the days immediately following your loss.
Anger. Anger provides a bridge of connection from the initial numbness. You may find yourself angry at the doctors, your family, the loved one who died, at God – or at everyone. Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Your anger is connected to your pain. The more you truly allow yourself to feel your anger alongside the pain, the more it will diminish, and the more you will heal.
Bargaining. Before and after a loss, you may feel like you would have done anything if only your loved one would be spared. “If only” and “what if” become recurrent thoughts. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. You may wonder if you could have done anything differently so that your loved one might still be alive. You may try to second-guess the doctors and yourself. You may revert to living in the past to avoid the pain of the present.
Depression. After bargaining, feelings of emptiness and grief present themselves on a deeper level. This depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a deep loss. When that realization of loss fully settles, and you realize that your loved one is not coming back, feelings of deep sadness are not unusual. Depression is a necessary step toward healing.
Acceptance. Eventually you come to terms with your bereavement. At this point, the loss has become part of your story and your history. It does not consume your life in the same way it did immediately after the death of a loved one. With acceptance comes increased peace. As you move through this stage, you will find yourself once more interested in and able to enjoy some of the things that you formerly liked to do. You may develop new interests and relationships. You have learned to live with your loss in a way that is constructive and healing.
Individual counseling, local grief support groups, and websites may help in working through your grief. Online resources include discussion forums, educational tools, and a community for people who are dealing with grief. You may find one or more of the following websites helpful:
- GriefShare is a nationwide network of groups of people who meet weekly to share and support each other during the grief recovery process. Visit www.griefshare.org to find a support group near you.
- 12 Weeks of Peace is a free online bereavement program offered by the National Cremation Society, with resources to help you through grief.
- Griefnet.org is an online community of people dealing with grief, death, and major loss, with over 50 email support groups.
- Widownet.org is an online information and self-help resource for, and by, widows and widowers. Topics covered include grief, bereavement, recovery, and other related topics.
- Grieving.com is a forum resource with more than 45,000 active members. Topics range from terminal illness and sudden death to the loss of a pet.
- MISS Foundation is a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization that supports people of all ages through the process of grieving the death of a child.
- Recover From Grief provides information about the grieving process as well as coping strategies.
- The Grief Toolbox offers articles, an online art gallery, a support group locator and other resources to help people through the grieving process.
- The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) also offers a detailed section on Grief Support.
Death is a natural event. Experts agree that children, even the very young, should not be shielded from the death of a loved one or a pet. Children have the capacity to recognize death as an event and the curiosity to ask questions about the event. The general advice is to talk to the child truthfully about the death, in an age-appropriate manner.
Ask questions to determine what the child already knows about the situation. You may then explain the situation to him simply and honestly. For instance, you may say, “Grandma’s heart got too tired and stopped working, so she died.”
It is also important to avoid giving answers that may confuse or frighten the child, such as “Grandma went to sleep forever” or “God took Grandma to be with the angels.” Allow the child to ask questions if she wants, but don't pressure her if she doesn’t respond. A younger child may ask questions such as “Where is Grandma now?” or “Is my kitty in heaven?”
“Try to avoid euphemisms like, ‘She’s in a better place,’ because they can be scary or confusing for young children,” says Ashleigh Schopen, a Certified Child Life Specialist who provides support for siblings of intensive care patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in Parents magazine.
Older children may comprehend the finality of death more fully, and ask more abstract questions that are related to issues of faith, or the meaning of life. For any age group, stick with truthful, simple answers in terms that the child can understand.
Listen to the child, answer questions honestly, and offer comfort without dwelling on sad feelings. Acknowledging your own feelings of sadness may help the child feel more comfortable with theirs.