When any form of catastrophe strikes—from household fires to major earthquakes—people are often bombarded with images of grief. We know that loss, while distressing and upsetting, is a natural part of life. But when it hits us unexpectedly, we can be overcome by shock and confusion, leading to prolonged periods of sadness.
How any one reacts to death varies, and so does each person’s way to cope with grief. Psychologists have learned through research how people grieve, why some people struggle with loss more than others, and how specially trained professionals can help people continue living their own lives and find personal meaning.
From their research, psychologists have learned that:
- Most people can recover from loss on their own through the passage of time, social support and taking good care of themselves.
- People move through their grief at their own pace. For some people, it may take a few months or even a year to fully move on. But other people may be feeling better within just weeks. There is no “normal” time period for someone to grieve, and everyone is on a timeline that works best for them.
- The stages of grief are not really a linear process. We’ve all heard about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But new research is challenging that popular notion. Scientists are now reporting that most people do not go through the stages as progressive steps, and some research even indicates the five stages may not even exist.
One key to developing a healthy response to grief is resilience. Human beings are resilient. And most people can endure loss and then continue on with their own lives.
But some people may struggle with grief for long periods of time and be unable to carry out daily activities. These people could be experiencing complicated grief, and may benefit from the help of a psychologist or licensed mental health professional who specializes in grief.
Psychologists are trained to help people better handle the fear, guilt or anxiety that is often associated with the death of a loved one. Informed by research, psychologists can help people build their resilience and develop strategies to get through their sadness.
Letting go of your grief does not mean letting go of people you miss. You can celebrate their lives in special ways that keeps their memory alive. Some people choose to plant trees, pass on a family name to a baby, or donate money to a charity of scholarship fund. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to recognize your loved one and move on with living.
Loss is forever but grief is not. Mourning the loss of a close friend or relative takes time, but research tells us that many can find a renewed sense of meaning that offers purpose and direction.