With understanding grievers can cope
September 19, 2003
Everyone feels grief when they experience a significant loss or change. Death, divorce, a traumatic storm, or the loss of a loved one can start the cycle of grief, according to Kim Allen, human development specialist, University of Missouri Outreach and Extension.

"When a human experiences these changes, it is important to understand the stages of grief in order to learn how to cope. Everyone must go through the same stages in order to work through a major loss," Allen said.

The first stage of grief is shock, characterized by being in a state of confusion or of feeling nothing. "Shock is a coping mechanism that helps us to gradually come to terms with the loss without feeling overwhelmed," said Allen.

The second state is denial when we convince ourselves that the event never happened or simply refuse to believe what has happened.

During the third stage involving anger--defined as an intense feeling of rage, envy or resentment--Allen says that those in distress assess blame either to themselves, others or God. She doesn't believe that anger is a "bad emotion" but thinks it causes guilt feelings or a tendency to hurt others.

The next stage is bargaining, where we try to change what we are not in control of, or to delay the inevitable. "During this stage, we will make promises to what will hopefully change the outcome of the loss. We might say, 'if she can live, I promise to live a good life from now on'," said Allen.

When a person finally sees that the loss is a reality, that person loses vitality and enters the depression stage. "During the depression stage we often feel despair and question whether we can cope with the situation," Allen said. This painful stage can lead to poor decision-making before the final stage, acceptance, a sign that we are coming to terms with the loss or change.

Allen recommends to people that they view grief as a process, or a circle, not as a single event. She also recommends a few specific steps that can help with the grieving process. These include expressing one's feelings to supportive people.

"Take small steps because the process is gradual. Do little things along the way that help you deal with your loss and try not to expect a complete recovery quickly," said Allen.

Third, everyone is encouraged to engage in life in order to reduce stress--to find things that they enjoy doing -- like visiting with friends, exercising, or gardening.

"The final step is to simply find consistency. Getting back to regular routines at home, school and work will help you realize that life goes on," said Allen.

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