Coping with Grief and Loss

‘I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorry most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these words in response to the sudden death of his friend Arthur Hallam. But it does not need a death to trigger grief – the break up of a relationship; unrequited love; missed opportunities; the abuse of trust – each in their own way results in grief and loss. At Coupleworks helping our clients to begin to process these feelings is part of our work.

Almost 50 years ago Elizabeth Kubler Ross frustrated by the lack of studies on grief, and inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, described the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She was also concerned to underline that not everyone who is grieving will go through all the stages and the stages may not be in that order. Everyone’s grief is his or her own and there is no right way of experiencing it, nor can you predict how intense it will be. However they remain a useful tool to help people see that what they are experiencing is normal and natural and accepting this can be very helpful.

The 5 stages of grief:

Denial: in this stage the individual is trying to deny their loss, they can’t believe it is happening to them, they feel as if it is a mistake. If the loss is sudden and unexpected then sometimes there may be numbness like waiting to wake up from a bad dream – all will be better tomorrow but it isn’t.

Anger: The intense reality of the pain can feel too much as the denial stage wears off, but a way of avoiding that pain is for the individual to look for someone to blame. It can be themselves for not doing something or being there or directing it to others.

Bargaining: Here the characteristic phrase is ‘If only….’ I had done this or been there then it might not have happened. This is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, to feel as though despite what has happened we still have some control.

Depression: what is the point of going on? I can’t be bothered any more…. The feeling of sadness and pain just seems so overwhelming, and ordinary things that we enjoyed previously feel mundane.

Acceptance: this is the final stage and not everyone reaches it. It is the point of beginning to come through the grief – a gradual reinvesting of energy into life. There is an adjustment and acceptance that life can go on even without our loved one or those lost hopes.

Sometimes it can feel like the pain is never ending but time can heal and things may eventually become more bearable. We can find ways of living with the loss.

A few tips to help you cope and keep going….

1. Allow yourself to feel sad and express and release your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry – it is better than bottling up your feelings.
2. Look after yourself – don’t forget to take exercise even if that is going for a walk.
3. Sleep if you can and have a regular bedtime.
4. Avoid drink and drugs that temporarily dull the pain – you will only feel worse afterwards.
5. Plan ahead for grief triggers such as anniversaries or special reminders.
6. Find support and don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends
7. Counselling can be helpful to talk your feelings through and have a space to share the pain.

And perhaps hold on to those words of Tennyson, however difficult it may be to believe them – still less to feel them. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’

Sarah Fletcher

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