Grief and loss

Losing loved ones and grieving for them is part of life. Grief is a natural reaction and an important step in saying goodbye. The death of a close friend or relative is certainly one of the most difficult events that people have to cope with. But grief is not limited to death. Feelings of grief can also occur in relation to other losses, such as the failure of a relationship, losing a job, experiences of displacement or flight, material loss due to natural disasters, or in the context of dementia.

Dealing with grief

Woman comfortingly holding the hand of another person

The sensitive topics of grief and loss are often subject to a taboo in society. Many people therefore try not to show their grief openly. The reason for this is often that there is great uncertainty in the family, among friends and in the work environment about how to talk to and support people in their grief. The individual mourning process should be given as much space and time as necessary because every person mourns differently.

"Suffering, it turns out, is a place that none of us knows until we are there."
Joan Didio, Journalist

The path through grief

Anyone confronted with loss goes through an emotionally stressful process. During this process, various feelings are experienced, such as fear, anger, loneliness, helplessness, despair or a feeling of not being able to cope. It takes time for the loss to be integrated into life. The path through grief is different for each individual. Grief can occur in phases, in spurts or in waves that catch up with the grieving person.

1. Shock

The grieving person is usually seized by an initial state of shock. In this emotional state of shock, helplessness, feeling at the mercy of others, disbelief, feelings of being overwhelmed and numbness can occur. The shock may occur immediately or later on and may also be recurrent.

2. Displacement

After the shock seems to be overcome, there is usually psychological resistance, and the loss is denied. The grieving person does not want to accept the loss, and anger, accusations and blame directed at doctors, family, friends or work colleagues are all possible. These intense feelings are often necessary to regain self-control.

3. Rational insight

This is followed by the rational realization that the loss has actually occurred. Despair and frustration often continue to accompany the grieving person as they adjust to the new reality.

4. Emotional insight

Rational insight is followed by emotional insight, also known as the "valley of tears". This can be passed through again and again in repeated episodes. Particularly during this phase, grief should be given space and feelings given free rein. Emotional insight can be followed by many moments of tears and farewell rituals.

5. Acceptance

The loss is accepted at this stage. It is an important turning point in processing what has happened and saying goodbye to the loved one. A mental "It's okay" helps to reduce blame.

6. Trying things out

After acceptance, curiosity arises to open up again and try something new. Interest in other people and activities returns. The first moments of joy and hope are experienced. The memory of the loss no longer triggers pure sadness. The feeling of coming out of this experience stronger and having learned something is also perceived.

7. Integration

The grieving person regains a feeling of self-confidence and can deal with the new situation without resistance and fear. The loss is integrated and becomes a part of one's own life.

Small steps that can help

sad face
Allow and endure the grief
When reactions such as crying, intense anger and feelings of pain are accepted and not suppressed, the loss can be processed.
heart between two hands
Develop self-compassion
The grieving person should approach their situation with mindfulness and an understanding of themselves and their condition. Time for oneself, time with others, exercise and talking about the loss can all help during the grieving process.
Offer and accept support
Often advice is not needed, but instead an awareness and appreciation of the loss. People who have contact to the grieving person should be open to conversation and give them time and space.
sewn heart
Create memories and rituals
To cope with grief, creating rituals or sharing memories can help. There are different ways to deal with the loss – for example, by writing a farewell letter or celebrating being together in certain places.

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