When we experience a big loss, it can be very painful. There’s not much that can prepare you to experience that kind of grief or pain, but knowing how humans experience grief can help you understand what you or a grieving friend are going through.
Grief isn’t limited to just one situation. It often happens when a loved one dies, but can also occur after a divorce or breakup, losing a job, the end of a friendship, death of a pet or a traumatic experience. Any significant loss can lead to some degree of grief, though the intensity will vary.
There are typically five stages associated with grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You may or may not experience them in order or even at all, and you may go back and forth between a couple stages during the process.
When you first learn about your loss, you may have a hard time believing it even happened. You may be in shock or disbelief, or go numb to the point where you don’t feel like anything actually happened. You may be expecting a lost loved one to show up or call. Once it hits you that the loss is real, you may become angry. You’ll wonder what you did to deserve this. Anger at another person, a religious figure, or even yourself is common.
In certain situations like finding out a person you love is terminally ill or after a breakup, you may bargain to change the outcome. You may plead with God to fix it, promising that you’ll change or do something differently if you get the results you want. During this stage of grief, you may also feel guilty, as if you could have done something to prevent the situation from happening.
Once you realize that the situation is out of your hands, you may become incredibly sad or depressed. You may feel lethargic and unable to feel happiness. If you feel your grief is too prolonged or overwhelming, speaking with a counselor will help you cope.
Most importantly, remember that no two people experience grief the exact same way. You also won’t grief the each loss the same way, either. There are no timelines or milestones. Grief is difficult, but it’s necessary in order for you to properly heal and move forward.