Help a Loved One Find Peace with Death
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Denial. Bargaining. Depression. Anger. Acceptance. You’ve heard these words before, most likely in this order, and there’s a strong chance you are intimately familiar with their importance. If you haven’t guessed already, these emotional responses are the stages of grief after a significant loss.
While not every person will go through each stage, per se, or experience them in a specific manner, this process does denote the typical response of a human who is trying to cope with death. As one stage dissipates, the next ensues, and no one experiences each the same or for a certain amount of time. There is no formula to grief; however, we humans have tried to explain this process as a means to help ourselves and each other understand our emotions and cope with their emergence.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Denial: Our minds try to protect us from such a loss, that initially, they don’t believe it. Numbness can wash over the person, as they may be shocked by the event.
Bargaining: To deal with tragedy, our minds try to make sense of it. When we do this, we replay the events and attempt to manipulate the outcome, so we get a different result. Somehow, we think we can fix what has happened.
Depression: This stage typically occurs after people realize the impact of their loss. Symptoms of depression include poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration, and feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Anger: People experience anger when they feel helpless. They may feel isolated and lonely after such a loss and often turn their fury toward a higher power or the “unfairness” of death.
Acceptance: When someone assimilates their loss into a part of their own life, they begin to accept and come to terms with the event.
The Importance of Individual Grief
Some people may never truly “accept” a death, but it is a necessary step toward recovery and healing. During the grieving process, people may experience these stages in a different order, being angry after denial, or maybe they never truly bargain, because they know this attempt is futile (although a natural part of the brain’s behavior). They may return to various stages later, after already experiencing them. It’s also important to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We cannot set boundaries or create rules based on such a complex process. It is important to go through the process, however, for personal growth during a time of darkness.
Because death is inescapable and terrifying, humans have done much throughout our evolution to cope with such gravity. We prepare the dead, take care of their remains, adorn their burial spot with flowers or a marker, and attend a procession of some sort. These rituals have been created as a means to deal with such a loss, together and publicly.
Today, we have funeral services and wakes. Funerals serve many functions, but most importantly, they help us to honor the deceased and externally mourn their passing, in a better attempt at recognizing this loss. One of the most profound statements you can make to help a loved one deal with a death is to attend one of these ceremonies. You don’t need to say anything significant. You don’t need to buy flowers. But it is remarkable the effect you can have by simply showing up. In this extremely difficult and important occasion, you have given your time to someone. There is no better gift.
How to Further Help the Bereaved
First, understand the stages of grief and accept that they are a unique process for each person. People develop varying coping mechanisms to deal with the sorrow; it is a part of individual growth. You may need to support a loved one while you try to come to terms with the same loss. Remember that your methods for managing your emotions will be different for others.
Step 1: Listen and be open.
During this time, you need to let your loved one express his or her emotions. Listening is the best way to allow them to do this. You do, however, want to say something, and finding the right words may be difficult. But no matter what, acknowledge the loss. Be honest with the vocabulary of death, and be honest about your lack of knowing what to say. Accept their behaviors and responses, and don’t assume you know what they are going through. Sometimes silence is the best solution.
Step 2: Be a reminder.
Reassure your loved one that how they feel is natural and okay. People need to hear this, and they certainly don’t need to feel as if they are doing something wrong. Remind them that grief is unique, individual, and necessary for healing and growth.
Step 3: Offer help.
Ask the bereaved if there is anything you can do to help them during this time. You will need to be the one who takes initiative, but also allow the person to determine whether they want your help or not. It is difficult to know when to give a person space, but it is also important to help your loved one not feel like a burden. Go grocery shopping, prepare meals, or take care of a pet—whatever it takes to let your friend grieve. Let them focus on their progression through grief.
Step 4: Continue support, after the funeral.
Be consistent in your care and let them know you are there for them, without their having to exude much effort. Send them reminders that you care. Call them. This is especially important during holidays, the deceased’s birthday, or other important times. Expect to be a part of this process for as long as it takes.
Step 5: The don’ts.
Don’t tell the bereaved you know how they feel. Don’t tell them they “look well”, this only makes them think as if outward appearances can cover up their feelings. Don’t ignore warning signs of danger. Do, however, watch for symptoms of clinical depression if their behaviors do not improve or signify a greater risk.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, February). Supporting a Grieving Person. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/supporting-a-grieving-person.htm
Stages of Grief: How to Cope With Grief and Loss. (2014, May 31). Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief?page=2
Why Have a Funeral? (2013, January 1). Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.meaningfulfunerals.com/meaningful-funerals/why-have-a-funeral/