In every person’s life they will be faced with the task of experiencing the loss of someone very close to them. Many trained professionals have tried to develop ways to cope with this life changing experience by examining those who have gone through this process. Their objective is to find some common ground to help the bereaved understand that what they are going through is normal. However, if one does not actively participate in the healing process that this traumatic event creates it can cause further damage physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The goal is to examine many different models of grief and how they relate to the individual in the healing process. The second goal is to explore the many effects that grief has on an individual and the consequences of not facing one’s grief. The third purpose of this paper is to find ways to help others heal by understanding that what they are facing is a real, to take comfort, and to eventually find hope in this very human condition.
Grief is part of the human condition that everyone must face. One can grieve for many things that are lost in our lives such as a job, a dream, a relationship, or a house, but I will be exploring bereavement which is when a person loses someone he or she loved or cared about to physical death. One must learn to acknowledge grief, being willing to face it, and find a place of healing to become a strong emotionally healthy person.
Different Models and Theories of the Grief Process
Many different studies and theories about how people have dealt with loss over the years have been presented. One of the first to present his theories was Freud. In his Morning and Melancholia paper Freud believed that those who are grieving are searching for an attachment that has been lost and that there were three sections that one had to accomplish in order for the mourning process to be complete. They include a) “freeing the bereaved from bondage to the deceased b) readjustment to new life circumstances without the deceased and c) building of new relationships.” (Hall, December 2011). He believed it was an active process that one must engage in to move on in a timely fashion to reconstruct his or her innermost world so that one can return to normal function as soon as possible to avoid the increase of melancholia that develops when a person fails to follow the three sections. (Freud, 1957). Once the loss is acknowledged, the ego adapts to the loss so the person is able to search for and form new attachments. (Humphrey & Zimpler, 1998; Susillo, 2005).
Several year later Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s created a grief cycle based on her clinical work with the dying. She discovered that when people where faced with their own mortality they went through five stages of grief including 1) denial; 2) anger; 3) bargaining; 4) depression; and finally 5) acceptance. (Kübler-Ross and Kessler, 2005). This model was later used for those who were experiencing the loss of a loved one.
William Worden (2008) created the four tasks that mourners should complete so that they could actively participate in their healing while still getting help from an outside source. Those tasks included the acceptance of their loss, to process the pain of grief, to adjust to the world without the deceased, and “withdrawing emotional energy from the deceased and putting it into another relationship.” (1982). This last task was closely related to Freud who also stated that you should withdraw you attachment from the deceased. (Konigsberg, 2011). Worden later changed the last one to find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life” since it was discovered that people thought about their loved ones long after they were gone. (Worden, 2008; Konigsber, 2011).
Other stage models include Bowlby who believed that there are four stages of grieving: numbing, yearning and searching, disorganization and reorganization. His theory was based on the security and survival of an individual. When attachments were broken or lost the emotions of anger and anxiety could be expressed in these stages of grieving. (Bowlby, 1986).
Rando has categorized grief in normal process of grief and complicated grief. In normal grief she puts the process into three phases: Avoidance, Confrontation, and Accommodation. In the avoidance face a person experiences shock, numbness, confusion, overwhelmed, and foggy. Once the shock decreases and the person faces the loss he or she begins the denial process. This occurs within the first five months as survivors begin to face the reality of their loss. Avoidance comes when a person tries to keep too busy so that they do not have to face their reality of life without their loved one. In the confrontation phase the person is hit with the intense pain of their loss. They have to come to grips with the change that this person in no longer in their lives. The last phase of accommodation has the person reinvesting in their life by making adjustments and forming a new relationship with their loved one who has died. Hope once again lives in their future. (Collier, April 2012).
The One Agreement
There are many other models of grief but they all point to a time of great emotional upheaval that takes time to heal. Most psychological theories seem to point to the separation between the deceased and the griever while others think that it is healthy to hold onto the relationship. One thing they all agree on is that it is a complex and unique process that every person must face individually.
The Physiological, Emotional, Psychological and Spiritual Effects of Grief
Our bodies can take on many physical expression and problems due to grief. One can experience fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, difficulty sleeping, pains, and crying. Although there are many important physical effects, I am going to only focus on two of the most common: crying and loss of appetite.
Crying is often associated with grief and death. But why exactly do we cry? According to Emily Driscoll:
Studies have shown that emotional tears contain more manganese,
an element that affects temperament, and more prolactin, a hormone that regulates milk production. Sobbing out manganese and prolactin is
thought to relieve tension by balancing the body’s stress levels and
eliminating build ups of the chemicals, making the crier feel better”.
According to Gross, Fredrickson and Levenson crying can be method on decreasing sympathetic activation. After the body activates sympathetic responses it follows up with a parasympathetic response to reduce the “high levels of sympathetic activation and restore autonomic quiescence”. (Gross et al., 1994). This brings the body back into homeostasis which is “the process of maintaining a stable psychological state in the individual under varying psychological pressures or stable social conditions in a group under varying social, environmental, or political factors.” (Merriem-Webster online dictionary). But the main reason people cry could just be to communicate to others in a language beyond words.
But this minor physiological benefit aside, the most likely reason we produce emotional tears is because it’s a means of communication.
Before babies can speak, they can cry. The only way for infants to
express frustration, pain, fear, or need is to cry. Adults may use crying
to bond with other humans. Expressing sadness can prompt comfort
and support from peers. Different languages can provide barriers to
spoken communication, but emotions are universal. (Driscoll, 2006).
On the website WebMD they believe crying serves many functions in expressing grief. One is to help release emotions since most people state that they tend to feel better after crying and by doing so it helps them cope with the demands that they face everyday. It also helps people adapt to sad situations as well as a communicate that you are feeling pain and desire comfort. (WebMD.com, nd).
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is a common symptom of grief. But just why do we lose our appetite. Dr. Trubow believes:
“In the short term, the stressor initiates a chain of reactions that includes shutting down your digestive system. Remember facing that lion? When you’re reacting to stress, the last thing you should do is eat because it diverts blood flow toward the stomach and away from the lower half of our body. This is important because we need increased blood flow to those muscles in order to run! And, while modern-day stressors don’t typically involve lions, our bodies are programmed to respond this way whether it’s life or death, or not. Thus, it makes sense that when you encounter an acute stressor, or grief-causing event, that your appetite is suppressed. How long you remain in the acute stress response is another matter, and is unique to each individual: how you process things, your body type, how resilient you are, and any number of other factors. At some point, if the stressor goes on long enough, you may convert (through a complex chain of events) into a chronic stress response, which, over time, can make you sick. “(Trubow, 2013).
Emotional Effects of Grief
Emotional effects caused by grief besides sadness can be that of anger, frustration, anxiety, guilt, worry as well as longing. One should not suppress any feelings but deal with them in a healthy way. The emotion of sadness wells up inside us and usually is released through tears. Releasing the pain is a very important step in the grieving process. Kubler-Ross and Kessler state “Unexpressed tears do not go away; their sadness resides in our bodies and souls.” (2005, p. 45). Another emotion one experiences through this difficult time is anger. One might question the presence of anger during this process and try to suppress it, but Kubler-Ross and Kessler warns against this course of action. “Be willing to feel your anger even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.” (2005, p.12). Hiding and stuffing ones feelings are clearly not recommended. In the Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman talk about those who have recently suffered a loss but declares that they are fine. They talk about the danger of that statement, “Saying I’m fine merely distracts us and others, while pain and loneliness persist on the inside. The net effect is to create a scab over an infection, leaving a mess underneath.” (James & Friedman, 2009, p. 56). The emotion of guilt may well up inside of us and cause regrets about the things that were not said or done. In our humanness mistakes will be made, but one must know that there will always be regrets.
We all know intellectually that we don’t have forever. But intellect does not inform matters of the heart. Regrets are of the heart, the yearning for more and the change to do it better. And death has a cruel way of giving regrets more attention than they deserve. (Kubler-Ross & Kessler, 2012, p. 39).
Society often asks us to not show our grief in public for many cannot handle it. Many don’t know what to say. Others are afraid of feelings or don’t want to face or talk about death. Many will tear up if you start to cry and become emotional themselves. One generation teaches the next that showing negative, painful emotions is not excepted in our society. (James & Friedman, 2009, pp.39-47).
Psychological Effects of Grief
Depression and grief can have many of the same symptoms such as loss of appetite, sadness, and trouble sleeping but that’s where the similarities stop. According to Ronald W. Pies, MD the claim that major mild depression and intense grief are identical during the short period after a loss of a loved one are not true. Those who suffer from major mild depression have thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness or gloom while the grievers usually have a good self-esteem, hope, and positive thoughts intertwined with negative ones. (Pies, 2013). Some refer to this as complicated grief where one does not know how to grieve and then continue with life. Pies explains it as grieving “in a healthy way and adaptive way” as we “integrate the loss into the larger fabric of our life. We learn and grow, even as we ache in sorrow.” (Pies, 2013). With depression it is just the opposite. We do not grow but instead we are broken. (Pies, 2013). People with depression tend to avoid social situations, have trouble functioning at work as well as in other areas of their life. (Hall, 2011). In the book, How People Grow, clinical psychologist Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend tell us that everyone experiences loss but we must actively enter the grieving process. They go on to say that what we do with grief affects our ability to live our lives in a happy, health way for the future. (Cloud & Townsend, 2001). If one does not face the pain of ones loss one cannot heal, form new relationships, or embrace new experiences. Grief does not just go away one must face it to really live and be happy, healthy individuals.
Acute and Prolonged Grief
However, Will Meek, Ph.D. also explores the two kinds of grief, acute and prolonged (complicated), in his article on the Real Stages of Grief. He believes that prolonged or complicated grief can look a lot like depression. He also believes that in acute grief over time one learns how to find relief, acceptance and a sense of meaning out of the loss. One can look back on the memories without it overpowering ones emotions. Prolonged grief, on the other hand, paralyzes ones emotions and causes other negative results such as “fear of forgetting the person, excessive guilt or anger, persistent sense of disbelief, moral indignation” (Meek, 2012).
Spiritual Effects on Grief
Bearing Each Others Burdens
So where does one turn to face this heart wrenching pain everyone must face? Many turn to their faith in God and the healing and hope that comes from Him. C.S. Lewis in his book, A Grief Observed, tells of his overwhelming emotions when he lost his wife. “I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny heartbreaking commonplace.” (1961). There is an intimacy we share we those we love and we can’t get it back when it is gone. Jesus himself knows firsthand this kind of grief and he showed it in the Bible through the story of Lazarus. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus and he loved Lazarus and his sisters very much. In John 11:35 we find the shortest verse of the Bible but a very poignant one; Jesus wept. Jesus wept for his friend, but most of all he wept with Martha and the other mourners for he is a compassionate God who sympathizes and feels the pain his children feel. (Hebrews 4:15). In Romans 12:15 God instructs us to to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (NIV) In other words it is a responsibility of every Christian to share in the sorrows of fellow believers. In keeping with what we learned about those who lose loved ones and avoid social interaction that can lead to deeper depression and attacks from Satan we can understand why God put such a responsibility on each person.
Hope for the Brokenhearted
David is another example of one who sought solace from God during his times of loss. When his friend Jonathan died in 2 Samuel he states: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.” God is a friend to the brokenhearted. Psalms 34:18, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he delivers those who are discouraged.” (NET).
But what is more shocking is that David grieved for Saul. This is the person who tried to kill him and made his life miserable, but David did not see it that way. He was saddened by the loss of his king, the anointed of God who was now forever lost in eternity. You see God is our hope for eternal life. The Christian knows that if a loved one is saved, although missed on earth, will be seen again someday. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2, NIV). Jesus is our hope, our strength, and our healer. If we put our lives in his hands and trust his will for our lives we can get through anything, even the loss of a loved one.
In this world everyone will face troubles and grief is the one trouble that everyone will face. How one chooses to face and conquer grief is an individual choice. However, as we have learned it is an active process in which all must be involved to move on with ones life after the loss of a loved one. As we live, understand, grow, and heal from this terrible separation we can also find hope in our God. We know his promises are true and that he will heal our broken heart on earth and someday reunite us with our loved ones for eternity.
Collier, Elizabeth. (2012). Understanding Complicated Grief from the Perspective of Local Community Bereavement Facilitators and emerging adults on a college campus. TCNJ Journal of Student Schoarship. Volume XIV. Accessed on June 20, 2014. http://joss.pages.tcnj.edu/files/2012/04/2012-Emr.pdf.
Real Stages of Grief Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/notes-self/201210/real-stages-grief.Real Stages of Grief
Beyond Kubler Ross rencent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/inpsych/2011/december/hall/.
Theories of Loss and Grief. http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/theories-of-loss-and-grief/.
1994 Psychophysiology – Psychophysiology of Crying. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/1994%20Psychophysiology%20-%20Psychophysiology%20of%20Crying.pdf.
Emily V. Driscoll. (October 2006). Why Do People Cry? http://scienceline.org/2006/10/ask-driscoll-tears/.
Dr. Wedie Trubow. (April 2013). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Dr.-Wendie-Trubow/grieving-and-health_b_3177737.html.
Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. (March, 2012). When does Grief Become Depression. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-grief/201203/when-does-grief-become-depression.
Cloud, Dr. Henry and Townsend, Dr. John. (2001). How People Grow. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan.
James, John W. 2009. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York, NY. Harpers-Collins