Dealing With Death

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Learning the stages of grief

"The (physical) death of a loved one is so painful an
experience that it is often the turning point in the life of the
survivor. The grief that comes from loss of a loved one is
intense, preoccupying, and depleting.

Emotionally, grief is a mixture of raw feelings such as sorrow,
anguish, anger, regret, longing, fear, and deprivation.

Physically, grief may be experienced as exhaustion, emptiness,
tension, sleeplessness, or loss of appetite. Grief invades our
daily-lives in many sudden gaps and changes, like that empty
place at the dinner table, or the sudden loss of affection and
adjustments, and uncertainties.

During the months of mourning after a death, we learn to face the reality and the pain of our loss, to say good-bye to our
loved one, to begin to restore ourselves, and to reinvest in life once again. In a sense, mourning is a time of new mastery over
our selves and our lives. Recovery comes in the days ahead, when mourning is anew until those feelings truly dissipate. (These
feeling of loss never really dissipate, we just try to deal with them in order to move ahead with our life)

Finishing or completing grief comes when we are able to let go of our feeling of grief and our intense connection with the
deceased. Although our love never dies, (nor do our loved ones, but only in the physical sense.
Physical death and rebirth
are one in the same) the pain of our loss can eventually dissolve. Life is change. We undergo change, loss, and grief from birth
onward. Every venture from home, every move, every job or status change, every loss of a person, pet, belief, every illness,
every shift in life such as marriage, divorce, or retirement, and every kind of personal growth and change may be cause for
grief [alcohol/drug recovery] ... these are little deaths of life.

Even though we have a multitude of opportunities for learning how to handle grief, we usually avoid our feelings of loss. Our
misconceptions about grief keep us from developing the courage we need to face grief. Many of us fear that, if allowed in, grief
will bowl us over indefinitely. The truth is that grief experienced does dissolve. The only grief that does not end is grief that has
not been fully faced. We also misunderstand tears. A slang expression for crying in our society is "to break down." We act as if
weeping is wrong or akin to illness, while tears actually afford us a necessary release from our intense feelings. Another
misconception is that if we truly loved someone, we will never finish with our grief, as if continued sorrow is a testimonial to our

But true love does not need grief to support its truth. Love can last in a healthy and meaningful way, once our grief is dispelled.
We can honor our dead more by the quality of our continued living than by our constantly remembering the past. Another
common misconception is that grief cannot be finished. Finally, there is a popular belief that self-neglect is part of grief. Healthy
grief, however, relies on self-care. Self-neglect is no testimonial to love. Instead, our deceased loved one would want us to love
ourselves, as he or she loved us.

Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through and complete grief means to face our feelings
openly and honestly, to express or release our feelings fully, and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes
for the wound to heal. It also takes courage to grieve in a society that mistakenly values restraint, where we risk the rejection of
others by being open or different.

In many cases it is our lack of knowledge about grief that increases our fear, despair, hopelessness, and helplessness when we
face a major loss in our lives. The goal here is to increase our understanding and acceptance of grief as a normal, inevitable
life experience. We can each learn to trust that although grief is painful, it is healthy and surmountable, and that grieving fully
will enable us not only to recover, but also to expand and grow.

Since pain is unavoidable, we can make pain our teacher instead of our enemy. Death is a natural part of living, yet we act
as if death is an outrage. We see death as our enemy; we see ourselves as death's potential victims. We deny the existence of
death. We fear death. We have a curious conviction: that we are immortal. Death is dramatized as unnatural, unexpected, and

Here are some philosophical values resulting from the acceptance of death:

We need death to savor life. Death puts us in touch with a sense of a real, individual existence. Death makes possible decisions
for authenticity (courage & integrity).

Death gives us strength to make major decisions. Death reveals the importance of intimacy in life. And the importance of
ego-transcending achievements!

Death shows us the path to self-esteem. Regardless of how it occurs, the death of a loved one is shocking, painful, and
seemingly impossible to accept. We often feel unprepared and therefore devastated by the death. Our loss is compounded by
our characteristic human difficultly in separating from one another; death is the supreme separation. Whatever the
circumstances, confronting death is not easy.

There are two major psychological tasks to be accomplished during the mourning period. The first is to acknowledge and
accept the truth: that death has occurred and that the relationship is now over. The second task is to experience and deal with
all the emotions and problems this loss creates for the bereaved. These tasks intertwine. Each takes time. Each is necessary
for the eventual recovery from grief.

Feelings of grief are very intense and often very mixed. We may feel emotions in an entirely new or different way. Among the
many feelings aroused by loss are sorrow, anguish, disbelief, despair, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, regret, resentment, emptiness,
and numbness, as well as yearning, love, and appreciation for the deceased. All these are natural feelings of grief that may
occur together or at different times. For the sake of maintaining our emotional health, it is important for us to admit our feelings,
not deny them. We must learn to tolerate and accept our emotions as well as the loss itself.

Emotional pain is not constant, even though we sometimes think it is. Emotional pain feels constant only when all our energy is
going into suppressing those feelings that are so hard to suppress. The natural process in grieving involves experiencing times
of intense feeling and then following them with periods of quiet. Allowing ourselves to move naturally in and out of pain, instead
of forcing artificial controls on our feelings enables us to go through and complete the grief process more quickly. Confronting
grief rather than avoiding it shortens the duration of the experience.

Before we recover from grief we go through many different moods and reactions in order to come to terms with death and loss.
Hope for reunion is given up slowly. Memories, ideas, and feelings are collected and relinquished again and again until
mourning is completed.

Stages of grief, the three phases of the grieving process:

1. Shock
2. Suffering/Disorganization
3. Aftershocks/Reorganization.

Phase 1 - Shock:
The death of a loved one is always unbelievable. We do not want the death to be true. It feels unreal and impossible. When we
are shocked, we go numb to some extent. Then we become suspended in a state of unreality, only vaguely aware of what is
going on around us. This numbness or anesthesia is temporary. Shock may last for days or weeks. Anger is one of the few
outlets we have for the disbelief, frustration, and helplessness we feel when we are confronted by death. Despite the fact that
under these circumstances anger may feel uncomfortable and startling, we need to accept it as natural.

People in shock sometimes look stoical, as if they are coping without much emotion. The truth is that in shock we do not feel the
full impact of loss and that therefore we are not yet suffering as we will once the numbness wears off. Because death is a fact
we do not want to believe, it is a long, slow process to overcome our resistance and accept reality.

Phase 2 - Suffering/Disorganization:
We begin to experience the full impact and pain of facing the finality of our loss. This is nature's way of helping us express and
release our pain. We may ruminate over and be intensely preoccupied with the details of the lost loved one's life or death, over
our relationship with one another, over our memories, over our last encounter, over unfinished business together, or even over
our more abstract ideas about death.

Our minds may be busy in one sense, yet in another sense we may be blank, out in space, unable to focus or concentrate.
Emotionally we feel acute suffering, even hysterical at times. We may find such emotions as bitterness, anger, self-pity, and
guilt especially hard to acknowledge. We need to realize that this is the way in which grief affects most people. Our doubts
about our capacity to cope may cause a temporary diminishing of our self-esteem.

A sense of impoverishment is characteristic of mourning. Depression and grief are linked. We feel irritable, dejected in spirits,
withdrawn, unresponsive, apathetic, unable to concentrate, powerless, and lacking in confidence. Loss of appetite and extreme
fatigue are also symptomatic of depression and grief. We may be moody, in pain at times, detached, without emotion at other
times; withdrawn and unable to relate to other people. Negativity, pessimism, emptiness, and a temporary sense of the
meaninglessness of life are all symptoms. We may be acutely restless and then become immobile. Feelings vary, of course, and
not everyone will feel all the emotions mentioned.

The pain of grief is never constant and does not last forever, but comes and goes in waves, with lessening intensity as time
goes on. Sleeping and dreaming may be affected. It is important to rest, keep up our strength, and maintain our health, even if
we are unable to sleep a lot. New aches and pains, and physical symptoms sometimes develop. Loneliness, yearning, feelings
of abandonment, guilt, and self-reproach are all feelings that we must confront. Generalized tearfulness is also a common

"If only I had/If only I hadn't"...unrealistically (expectations of ourselves) endowing ourselves with unnatural responsibility for
the death...Obsessively recreating the life and death of the deceased is a way to deny the reality. When the "if only's" become
obsessive and persist for years, the survivor is suffering a pathological problem.

Ambivalence is another feeling that may arise when a loved one dies. During mourning we often try to deny our ambivalent
feelings and idealize the loved one instead. Extensive idealization is a way of denying feelings like anger, ambivalence, and
guilt. Carried too long, this denial makes coping with the loss and recovering all the harder to do. Breaking the habits that
intertwined our lives with the deceased is a difficult process that takes time.

Also, consciously letting go, little by little, of our attachment to the symbols of our loved one helps in our recovery from grief.
Frequently during this mourning period we may feel irrational, mentally ill, or off-balance, and may often imagine seeing or
hearing the dead loved one. This is a natural part of grief.

Phase 3 - Aftershocks/Reorganization:
After several months, when the reality of death has sunk in more deeply, our needs and the tempo of our lives begin to change.
We tend to react in a different manner during this next stage. We may need more quiet and fewer people around, when up to
now we have been unwilling to be alone. If we have been very quiet and withdrawn, we may now be ready to resume a more
active social life. It may be harder to just sit around.

We may need more fulfilling activity, more involvement in life. However, our need to express ourselves continues throughout the
entire mourning process, whether we honor that need or not. We can see we are moving closer to recovery from grief when the
deceased is no longer our primary focus. With time, this change occurs naturally, but it can be distressing rather than welcome
if we mistakenly believe that our love for the deceased is measured by the strength of our sorrow.

It is important to clear ourselves of misconceptions like this one so that we can fully reorganize our lives. As our sense of loss
diminishes from intense sorrow to mild sadness, our appetite, sleep, energy, and functioning are restored pretty much to
normal. Now we want to have a future, and we begin to get involved in creating our life ahead.

In this reorganization phase, although we feel much stronger, we may still be working through our grief as intensely as before,
but in more subtle, less obvious ways. This then may be a time of aftershocks in the form of unexpected jolts of upset feelings
or sudden reminders of our loss and grief. Even though reorganization begins our re-entry and reinvestment in living, our
continued internal processing of grief keeps us from feeling fully "normal" yet.

Three kinds of help that bolster us during grief (or any other major crisis in life) are:

1. Self-support;

2. Environmental support (the network of people and activities that gives our lives meaning); and;

3. Our philosophy or belief system.

Many of us do not involve ourselves socially much beyond our immediate families and our work. We have excuses that we do
not have the time or the energy or the need for much else. Thus, we deprive ourselves of much of the extensive environmental
support that would benefit us. As important as it is for us to take care of ourselves every day, our need for self-support and
self-concern is critical when we are grieving. If we neglect ourselves at such times, we impede our recovery.

We need to be able to rely on ourselves in times of trouble. Self-support is a form of self-love. Loving ourselves involves
comforting or bolstering, listening to and accepting our own feelings, paying attention to our physical needs, and making sure
that all our needs are met rather than ignored. We need a lot of encouragement to endure our discomfort and to express
ourselves while grieving. We are all tempted at times to run away from tears and uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger,
loneliness, despair, or neediness.

It takes courage and self-love to believe that experiencing all these feelings will actually help our pain dissolve. Mourning may
require self-supports different from those we are used to. We may need to be more active or more quiet than usual. We may
need to talk more or contemplate more. We may need to express feelings out loud or write feelings in a journal.

We may need work or responsibility to bolster our self-esteem, or we may need the freedom to take on less responsibility. Most
of all, we need to accept our needs, regardless of what we were like before we suffered this loss.

In honoring our feelings and needs, we can show our concern for ourselves in the simple things we do to make ourselves feel
better, like taking hot baths or napping each afternoon. Taking care of ourselves may mean keeping our hands busy or being
physically active.

Reading during times of stress or trouble may support us. Some need to travel. Others need to take action, to get involved in a
cause, or help others to get their minds off themselves. A wide range of people and activities comprise our environmental
support system. Here are some:

Bereavement or grief counseling support groups;
Little leagues
Family physician
Health-care professions
Church and Clergy
Insurance agent
Financial adviser
Funeral director
Local business people
Adult community college courses
Job/job change or guidance
Volunteer work
Men / women's clubs
Stage acting

The more people and activities we have in our lives, the more expanded and useful our support system. Examining' all
the aspects of our support system is a way for each of us to be more conscious of the means for creating more satisfying lives
for ourselves and, therefore, to be more in control. Developing a full support system enhances our creative survival.

Although it may be hard to believe, we can recover from our sorrow. Recovery from grief is the restoration of our capacity for
living a full life and enjoying life without feelings of guilt, shame, sorrow, or regret. We have recovered when we once again feel
able to cope with our feelings and our environment, and when we can face reality and accept our loss on a gut level, not just
intellectually. Integrating our loss and reinvesting in our lives constitute recovery.

The depth of sorrow, the pain, the weeping, the incapacitation, the neediness, and all the intense feelings of mourning
eventually diminish and disappear. We do not forget the loved one or the loss, but the pain recedes. Usually the dissolving of
grief is gradual rather than sudden. In the process of recovering, grief may be triggered unexpectedly many times before
completion. We may go through different waves of pain, until the waves stop coming. Once we recover, the gap left by the loss
may still be evident, but our reactions to it will be less intense. Recovery results from setting recovery as an essential goal and
from living each day as it comes, dealing with both the regular routine of living and our deepest emotions. It involves having the
perspective to realize that someday we will look back and know that we have fully grieved and survived life's darkest hours.

Whether we experience it or not/ grief accompanies all the major changes in our lives (including alcohol/drug treatment). When
we realize that we have grieved before and recovered, we see that we may recover this time as well. It is more natural to
recover and go on living than to halt in the tracks of grief forever. The low self-esteem that is characteristic of the mourning
period often interferes with our believing that we can recover from grief. But eventually, hanging on to such feelings as guilt or
shame or resentment will delay the return of our self-confidence.

Our expectations, willingness, and beliefs are all essential to our recovery from grief. It is right to expect to recover, no matter
how great the loss. Recovery is the normal way. When we expect to recover, and know it is possible, we set recovery as a goal
to reach for.

On the other hand, if we get caught up in the popular belief that the pain of loss is never-ending, we doom ourselves to feelings
of hopelessness and continued sorrow.

Willingness to recover is essential. What it takes to recover is a willingness to hope, a willingness to go on with one's life, a
willingness to let go of the pain, and a willingness to heal fully. If we cannot find such willingness, we need to examine our
resistances to healing.

For total recovery from a loss, we must finish, or complete, our grief. The concept of finishing means that we can finish or
complete any experience in life, that what is past can truly be relinquished. It involves directly experiencing or expressing anew
or again all the emotions connected with the unfinished situation, experiencing the full impact again in the now, until all the
feelings are dissipated. The goal of finishing is to move feelings or experiences from foreground to background, to gain relief,
and to attain some shift in perspective.

If we do not finish with our grief, we experience problems and symptoms such as personality changes, progressive social
isolation, anxiety, fearfulness, depression, deadening of emotions, insomnia, constant colds or other chronic physical
symptoms, addictions and destructive pastimes such as promiscuity or gambling. Often we are unwilling to let go and let our
loved one be dead. Denying grief causes our pain, distress, and inability to let go of the deceased to persist. Unfinished
situations are filled with the same emotion and intensity as ever, even years later.

Sometimes problems in our relationships indicate our unfinished grief, such as difficulty in forming new relationships, reluctance
to trust or be close, lack of interest in others, or excessive need for other people. Difficulty in proceeding with life, long after a
loss is a major sign of unfinished grief.

Our grief may be unfinished because the means we used to complete it was ineffective. For example, ruminating about and
being obsessed with sorrow are necessary in the first flush of mourning, but ineffective completion tools months after death
occurs. Attempts to rationalize or think ourselves out of grief are circular. We run around the same track again and again
without the necessary break in perspective that emotional release provokes in completing a grief experience.

Trying to reason ourselves out of grief, or out of any feeling, rarely works. Likewise, swallowing feelings or pretending that
feelings are gone, are ways in which we fool ourselves into thinking we are finished with grief. Disowned or denied feelings do
not simply disappear.

Learning how to finish is an important skill for each of us to develop, whether we are facing finishing with dead people or with
live ones, finishing with old experiences or old aspects of ourselves. How long it will take to finish grieving is an individual matter.
Living with and expressing grief feelings is healthy! Also necessary, in the first months after a loss.

Depending on how important the lost loved one was to the survivor, healthy finishing can occur as early as three months after
the loss or as long as a year or two later. Whenever unfinished feelings are perceived, even years later, it is time to finish. It is
never too late to complete our grief.

Technique for finishing:

First ask yourself, do I want to finish? If the answer is yes, sit down facing an empty chair. Remain seated quietly for a few
minutes, and breathe deeply to help yourself relax. Now imagine that the person with whom you wish to finish is seated in the
chair opposite you. Imagine focusing your thoughts and feelings on the person or issue at hand. Then begin by sharing out
loud whatever comes to mind, any feeling that this experience evokes.

It is essential that you be true to yourself, which means that you allow yourself to express whatever you feel. Sentences that
begin with "I" best elicit feelings. One way to begin might be to express your discomfort about doing this kind of dialogue or to
express feelings such as "I have carried around my sorrow at losing you for years now" or "I still feel angry at you" or "I have
never had any feelings or reactions to your death."

Your feelings may rush forth after your opening sentence. That is the time to say whatever you feel, aloud. If you do not feel
much happening for you, or if you feel stuck, you can try saying either "I am angry at you" or "I am still angry at you for dying,"
or the reverse, "I am sad" or "I still miss you." Usually then your true feelings will come to the surface.

These simple, straightforward, and emotionally charged expressions are designed to enable you to evoke your own deeper
feelings. It is best to take time to check out what feels true for you. Whatever feeling emerges naturally is a true one. If you
experiment with a feeling that does not seem to fit or something that feels false, drop that expression or feeling.

If you suspect you have more feelings in one area than are emerging, stay with those and keep repeating a sentence that
represents the feelings like "I am sad," until the feelings begin to rise within you. Bottled-up feelings need to be encouraged to
come out into the open.

You may feel certain that you have no anger. Nevertheless, check out your feelings by saying aloud several times "I am angry
at you..." to discover what the truth is. You might also try the reverse, "I am not angry at you," to see if that feels true. Anger can
be expressed by yelling, punching a pillow, shredding books, slamming doors, and running; non-harmful physical ways.

Often a central part of the process of finishing is acknowledging that the person is gone. If one is denying the death, it is
necessary to confront such truths as "I know you are dead" or "I know I am not going to see you again." Admitting the death can
be a great relief. Understanding and finishing with loss hinges on our admitting what we lost. Knowing precisely what is now
gone, enables us to grieve fully and perhaps fill that gap in the future. Here are some examples,

To help us identify for ourselves what is unique in our own loss:
1. She was always there for me no matter what and without her I feel alone.
2. He was the first person who seemed to understand me.
3. He always gave me such good advice.
4. She made me laugh like no one I ever knew.
5. I hurt and it is not my fault.

Another key expression that may evoke hidden feelings about a loss is "I wish..." It is helpful to begin one or several sentences
with "I wish" and see what emerges. Often our secret wishes keep us from letting go or from coping with the loss in a more
constructive, life-affirming way. There is no no need to fear unusual body sensations, which are simply confirming your
emotional state. They will disappear after your emotions are expressed and released. In addition to, or instead of, the kind of
dialogue just mentioned, you may want to express, aloud, your appreciations and resentments to the person you are imagining.
In this way you can see what feeling you may have held back, what feelings you have about the relationship, and what you learn
about yourself.

Expressing appreciations and resentments can be very helpful in enabling us to let go. Whatever feelings you are expressing,
continue your dialogue until you feel you have no more to say. If you are unsure whether there is more, you can try saying
aloud "I feel finished with you now." Then you can try the reverse, "I don't feel finished with you yet." Either of these might be
true for you. If you are still not sure, you can keep repeating these contrasting ideas until one or the other feels true. Similarly,
you might use the sentence "I am ready to say good-bye to you now," or "I am not ready to say good-bye to you yet." When you
feel ready, you can say good-bye, arid whatever saying good-bye entails for you, be sure to express fully the feelings that
emerge in and around saying good-bye.

Carrying on such a dialogue is a profound tool for tapping inner feelings and moving toward resolution of guilt or other
problems. In addition, you may want to play the role of the deceased person with whom you have been speaking. Although you
may feel awkward or skeptical about being the other person, playing the role of the other can be an opportunity for objectivity
and real insight. Sit in the opposite seat, facing your self. Then allow yourself to respond, or to speak for the deceased.

If it feels right, this dialogue can be continued between you and the deceased, changing chairs as you do so. Each person in
the dialogue then has a chance for self-expression and completion. Even though you create this dialogue, it can have a great
impact and will allow you to examine your contrasting feelings. Although you may feel self-conscious or skeptical, risking this
kind of experience may enable you to finish grieving. Photographs and personal belongings can be useful, too.

Another method for dialogue with a dead person is to first close your eyes and picture the person. Then, aloud, call to that
person by name. You can keep calling until your grief feelings emerge. The dialogue can then be continued in any of the ways
mentioned. We are finished when our grief feelings seem dissipated, when we can think of the loss or the loved one without
pain, and when we can incorporate the fact of the death into our lives.

Finishing is essential if we are to live enriched, satisfying lives. What is unfinished pulls on us still, takes up our energy, and
thus reduces our capacity for living. It would be ideal if we could be fully authentic and stay current in every one of our
relationships; that is, share ourselves and our feelings openly and honestly, so that we would not have such backlogs of
unfinished business when we have to say good-bye.

Finishing, which involves the willingness to experience and express feelings fully, usually leads to a release of feelings, after
which a shift in perspective and then resolution occurs. Finished, one feels free, relieved, peaceful, even joyous, with the flood
of new energy from within. Finished, we are free to remember and to love without pain, sorrow, or regret.

When a loved one dies we are confronted with a profound challenge. We can either give up or grow from the experience. Our
pain can provoke us to be bitter, angry, disappointed - even to consider quitting. Our pain can mobilize us to live, risk,
experiment, and experience. From our pain we can learn and grow, to live again. Each of us can be a creative survivor. We can
choose to turn personal tragedy into life-affirming action or personal change.

Grief is an integral part of the human experience; each of us must face some sorrow, disappointment, and critical ending in our
lives. In order to survive we must learn to face loss and grief fully and to trust that we can recover and re-create our lives. As we
journey through these painful experiences of living, we must never forget that we have an amazing resilience and capacity to
survive." - The Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum, Harper & Row Publishers, 1980 The Road Less Traveled by M Scott
Peck, MD Touchstone/Simon & Schuster Publishers, 1978. * The first of the "Four Noble Truths" which Buddha taught was "Life
is suffering."

For further help with the grieving process -
University of Texas - Grieving website (HERE)
Welcome to Focus on Recovery's
Understanding Mental Health