Being widowed young was an eye opener. I had no conception of how long grief would last, nor what grief was. It's a very strange thing to go through in your life, and it varies from person to person. Having experienced grief in several situations in my life, with the death of close ones, I did a study on how grief affects different people after strange things happened which were not that easy to go through, and wanted to write this article to help people not only to understand the stages of grief, but to help them realize how long grief can last.
The stages of grief.
We are all given indications as to what we will feel when we lose someone we love. We see people crying on the television but never imagine ourselves in this situation. People are too protective and don't discuss things such as death in the western world, and what happens is that the stages of grief are different for everyone depending upon their own understanding.
Initial shock is a numbness which doesn't allow you to take in the fact that someone you loved died. You may be talking with funeral directors and making logical decisions about the funeral, though inside, it is extremely surreal as your heart and mind have not yet accepted that the person is dead.
After this stage, many others can follow. Often people get angry, and this is a natural feeling. They turn their anger towards the person who died for leaving them, or God for not being there, but all of these are signs of deeper problems. The problem that people who grieve cannot get to grips with lies within their own mind, and their acceptance of the inevitable rather than in outside influence.
The moving on stages may come early in bereavement, but beware. My experience told me that I moved on too easily, and didn't actually go through the real stages of grief. You need to cry. It's not weakness and it certainly is a different kind of crying from normal tears. It comes from within, and until you are able to spill all that emotion, you haven't been through all the processes you need to.
Acceptance comes in many forms. Yes, you can believe that God gave you no choice, and that you have to get on with your life, though that does not necessarily mean that you have accepted the death. When people internalize as I do, that stays inside you and although you think you have passed the acceptance level, often repressed emotions mean that the acceptance takes maybe years to actually happen. In my case, I found myself 19 years down the line, pulling my car into a car park and literally howling for no given reason.
With help and counseling, I found that the least likely thing had happened. Not only had I thought I had accepted the death, but I actually believed that I took it better than divorce or rejection. I had always thought myself strong, and here I was, faced with the fact that instead of accepting, I closed to door to accepting and let the grief build up inside until there was no more choice. Nineteen years worth of grief is a terrible thing to go through, and grief really can last as long as a human being refuses to accept.
Saying that goodbye.
Saying goodbye is not a physical matter of saying the words. It's a matter of closing your eyes, seeing that person and in your minds eye being able to let go. This process took me quite a long time. It was painful. Not only could I see him in my minds eye, I could feel his presence all around me and felt locked into his love. Of course, there was no physical presence. I am not a great believer in things like that, though the feeling of awareness that he was there was overwhelmingly real.
There was a very strange phenomena which has been proven to me by others that grieve. Up until the moment of letting go and saying goodbye, whenever I saw images of him, they were always like still pictures, never moving, never gesturing. I couldn't remember expressions or gestures. After acceptance, the world I lived in became this marvelous place where I was free to think those thoughts which made that loved one move, gesture, smile and become a real memory instead of a stifled one. Once you pass the goodbye level, what you get is richer than anything you can imagine. I still have that man I loved, because he came alive again within the memory, and that helps enormously.
The value of grief.
I learned within my life that the value of the grieving process is that it allows you a richer set of values. Instead of suppressing memories, and diverting your life intentionally so as not to upset balance, what happens is that it allows you to move on, though with a much broader attitude, and self respect. Instead of being a shell of a person, you become whole, and the person you lost becomes a whole memory as well. If you feel like crying, don't stifle it. If you see a friend grieving encourage it, as otherwise their grief may last as long as mine did.
Getting beyond grief.
Getting beyond grief in your life is hard. Often it is easier not to accept, and to just physically move on in your life, though long term this can destroy you, your new marriage, or even the new life you chose, because at some stage, you have to face that grief head on. Once you do, life becomes easier. In fact, even knowing this, I also realize that it isn't a personal choice. Grief happens when it is ready to happen and there are still people who I have failed to grieve, and will one day.
The purpose of this article is to help those who have lost someone to understand that all things do pass, and the value of grieving is that it allows you to replenish strength and enjoy all those memories you choose to suppress because it feels easier. It may last a week, it may last a year, though recognize when your body tells you it needs to cry, and let it. Chances are you can shorten the whole cycle just by letting your mind shed those tears, and your body shed the hopelessness instead of hiding behind it.