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Overcoming the death of a loved one

06.03.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

Losses are an essential and inevitable part of our lives. We all experience them sooner or later, and loss of a friend or relative. When it happens, the whole world starts to fall apart, we cannot accept this loss and feel this unbearable pain. Others can support us during funeral and our mourning, but then they return to their usual activities and daily routine, while we are left alone with our loss and fail to understand how can someone overcome this and live on. This pain seems neverending.

Can this even be called “pain”? It is a crippling void inside our heart, feeling of absolute emptiness and paralyzing fear. What was I afraid of? The worst has already happened. Yet I felt the whole world crumble.

– Evgenia, 36, lost her brother 3 years ago

Grief always hurts. It becomes so easy to fall into this abyss, destroying your life and yourself in the process.  You cannot just snap your fingers and make it go away.

However, you can help yourself handle the loss of a loved one, and you definitely should. Right now, you may feel that everything is pointless, but it is very important to take care about yourself during this period in order to keep the good memories about that person deep in your heart.

You cannot forget what happened, cannot justify it and come to terms with it. But you can accept this pain, live with it and move on. Let that be your tribute to a person you’ve lost. Take care about yourself and try to ease your pain.

We will tell you how people handle the pain, what are the stages of this process, and what you may experience yourself. You will also read psychologist’s advice and method for overcoming the loss of your loved one and live on.

Contents:

  1. Experiencing grief
  2. Easing the pain from the loss of a loved one: psychologist’s advice
  3. Overcoming the loss of a child

Experiencing grief [1]

Psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was working with dying people and their relatives and noticed that many people experience similar emotions when faced with the loss of their loved one and inevitability of death. She described 5 stages of experiencing grief.

Stages of grief

Stage 1. Denial. Loss of a loved one is always a shock. Many people cannot accept the reality, consider it all to be a dream and behave like nothing has happened. They talk to a deceased, fulfill their requests etc. Others may think that the person is not grieving at all, but in reality this behavior simply indicates that a person hasn’t accepted the fact of death. This stage may be followed by these thoughts:

“This cannot be, it’s just a bad dream. He couldn’t die, he’ll be back soon. I must be ready for his return. It’s just someone’s nasty prank.”

Stage 2. Anger and grudge. Once a person accepts the reality, they may start holding a grudge. They will get angry with everyone, from themselves to the whole world. Anger can even be directed to a deceased. People may get the following thoughts:

“Why couldn’t I save him? I should have fought for his life better. How can I live with this loss? It’s unfair! The whole world is against me! How could he do this to me? His friends should have saved him!”

Stage 3 Guilt and bargain. People start to think what actions could they have taken to prevent this whole thing from happening. This stage often helps people receive support from dear ones and understand that they couldn’t have changed the situation and they are not at fault.

“What if I called him back then and spoke my mind? If only I insisted on postponing the trip! If only I knew this would happen…”  

Stage 4. Depression. After a person releases their anger and realizes that bargaining is futile, they may drown in suffering. A deep grieving is almost always accompanied by the signs of depression: dejection, sleep disorders, frustration, apathy, etc.

“Everything is gone, I can’t live without him. How can I even overcome the loss of such a dear person? I feel so empty, I will never enjoy life again, I will always feel pain.”   

Stage 5. Acceptance. Being at this stage does not mean that the person has forgotten about their loss. It simply stops being at the center of their life. The unbearable grief gets replaced with sweet sorrow.

“I love my Grandma so much, it’s so good I had her in my life and I got to know her. She would probably want me to be happy. I miss her, but I can live on, for her sake as well.”

Knowing about these stages can help you understand what you are going through at any moment. However, you must understand that expression of these stages of grief is unique to each person.

You may experience them in your own way, skipping certain stages or even going through them in a reversed order. Some people understand the inevitability of death and move directly to acceptance. Do not worry if you have skipped a certain stage. You may have your own stages that will come in their own times.

I am going through a very difficult period in my life. I lost my husband a month ago. I read several articles, prepared for it, and they all mention these stages. I even started to think that I’m weird, that I didn’t love him, because I experienced everything in a different way.

– Vera, 48, lost her husband a month ago

Easing the pain from the loss of a loved one: psychologist’s advice

  1. First of all, accept your right for emotional defeat. Grief is important, you shouldn’t try to suppress it or ignore it, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of your emotions, you have all the reasons to miss the person who is here no more. Your loved one has died, your world has changed, and it can be extremely hard to get used to it.
  2. Do not listen and talk to people who invalidate your grief, forbid you to experience it, tell you that you needed this, that it will make you stronger, tell you to get a hold of yourself and move on. Such advice is useless, because grieving is the only thing we can do in this situation. [2]
  3. Give yourself time, do not rush it. Mourning people often say something like this: “It’s already been a month and I still cannot accept their death.” However, you don’t hear people say this after a surgery: “Hey, it’s been 20 minutes, the stitches must have already healed.” Both physical and mental trauma needs time to heal, and pain does not disappear until it happens.
  4. Allow yourself some time to grieve, cleanse it from other emotions, like anger, guilt or grudge.  Sorrow helps you realize and accept what happened, overcome your loss. A ritual of minute’s silence exists for this very purpose: it lets us focus on the loss and accept it.
  5. Write a letter. Sometimes we suffer from the fact that we didn’t tell them something, didn’t say our goodbye. In such case a letter can be a good way to express your emotions, purify your grief and learn to live with it.
  6. Talk to somebody. Voice your emotions, tell someone about the things you miss. Share your grief.
  7. Recognize the situations when you feel the loss of your loved one the most. For example, they used to help you with your home renovation. Try to learn doing it on your own or find someone to help you from now on.
  8. Seek professional help if you experience guilt or shame from losing a loved one and you cannot overcome them yourself.
There are certain situations and thoughts that can interfere with your sorrow and even make it stronger. Instead of experiencing grief you will be blaming yourself or looking for someone to shift the blame.

You may be followed by these devastating thoughts and emotions:

Emotions that can get in the way
 
Thoughts
 
Survivor’s guilt
 
Why am I left behind? It would’ve been better for me to die, not him. I am worthless and useless..
 
Guilt of relief He suffered so much before his death, and now it’s finally over. It was so hard to take care of a sick person for 10 years. I love him, but now I feel relief.
 
Guilt of happiness
 
He died only 2 months ago, I have no right to feel happy, I must grieve him more. How can I overcome this loss so easily? I can’t be happy while he is buried deep below.
 
Fear of forgetting
 
If I don’t remember him constantly, I will forget about him soon. I must go to the cemetery every day, keep his things and his room as it is. This is the only way to keep him in my memory.
 
Guilt of weak grief
 
I don’t grieve enough, I must suffer more. I have accepted my loss too soon, I must be incapable of strong love, I am in the wrong.
 

Receiving psychological help during your loss and grief is not a whim, it is your way to care about your mental state.

Overcoming the loss of a child

accepting the death of a loved one

Handling the loss of a person is always hard. However, the loss of a child is a special case, because such loss is unnatural. This goes against the laws of nature: our children are meant to outlive us. Grief of losing a child is often accompanied by suppression, self-condemnation, finger pointing and search for reasons.

We will help you to survive the loss of a loved one

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We don’t usually talk about death of our children with others, especially if we have lost an infant or had a miscarriage. Many people and even doctors often say: “You are still young, you can get pregnant and give birth once again. Live for your other children.” Such words only make our pain worse. Even our relatives cannot help us, because they grieve just as much as we do. However, their grief may be different from ours, so we cannot even find a common ground.

The society itself can blame the parents for the child’s death, saying that they didn’t look after them properly, didn’t protect them, didn’t prepare, only adding an insult to an injury. Of course, such blaming stems from the sense of fear. Other people are afraid of losing their children, they are afraid of experiencing such loss, so they try to come up with a reason to ease their own minds:

“They didn’t look after their child properly, it’s their fault, they are bad parents. I’ll make everything right, I’ll do my best and my children will be safe.”  

Such reasoning has nothing to do with reality. Psychological help becomes increasingly important after the loss of a child due to the intensity of emotions and inability to share your grief with others. You can change your way of thinking, so that nothing stands between you and your sorrow.

My friends and therapy helped me accept the reality. Now, after almost 10 years, I can say I have truly accepted it. I didn’t understand, didn’t come to terms with it, didn’t consider it as a normal situation, didn’t forget (I never will), but I have accepted this

– Evdokia, age unknown, lost her son 10 years ago

Please, take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help, if you need it. Do not distance yourself from your friends and family and shut yourself away in your grief.

Источники:

  1. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, «O smerti i umiranii»
  2. Tim Laurence, «Ne vsyo proiskhodit po prichine». Perevod stati: https://psychologyjournal.ru/public/lyubaya-beda-nesluchayna/