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Healing grief, it takes time

Casey Hughes, R.N., Flagstaff Medical Center

A precious loved one has died. Waves of pain wash over you and you question how you will survive. You will survive, and most likely you will find your own healing path. Grief can be confusing and everyone grieves differently. Religious and cultural experiences, your relationship with the person who died and the circumstances of the death are just a few things that influence your reaction to grief. Grief comes in many different varieties and stages.

Shock: Your first response to your loss is usually shock. In the midst of this feeling of shock, you may feel numb, having trouble believing your loved one is gone. You may understand what has happened, but your memories and habits are denying death at a deeper level. This disbelief and denial are normal. 

Guilt: To feel pain and guilt also are normal while grieving. Guilt can be one of the hardest emotions to handle and it could last for quite some time. Self blame and doubt add to the pain of grief, making it difficult to share with others. However, it is helpful to talk with others about your feelings or keep a journal to help you gain perspective. The most important thing is that there are no right or wrong feelings in grief; they are simply your feelings.

Anger: You may find yourself angry. Anger is a protest about a great and unjust loss. You may find yourself “taking it out” on different people in your life, or even being angry at “God”. Anger should be admitted, expressed and released.

Sadness: When shock wears off, guilt eases and anger cools, deep sadness usually arrives. A feeling of hopelessness comes over some people; sometimes they are not even unable to get out of bed. Normal everyday activities are exhausting. This is the time when you need a friend, someone to listen to you and not judge as you talk about your loss. If you are not able to do this with a friend, there are free support groups. Also, consider an activity that is soothing and physical. When you are sad, you typically still are connected to loved ones. If you are depressed, you tend to feel disconnected, withdrawn into yourself, separated and without hope. Depression is typically reserved for feelings of hopelessness and despair that run deeper and are more long-lasting than ordinary sadness. Seek professional medical, if you think you may be depressed.

Acceptance:  Acceptance often is confused with the notion of “being alright” with what has happened.  That is not the case. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing this new reality is now the permanent “norm”. You will never like this or will never be able to make it okay, but you will eventually accept it and you learn to live with it. It is now the new normal with which we must learn to live. Take care of yourself.  Find ways to remember the life of your loved one daily. 

Casey Hughes, R.N., is an intensive care nurse and chair of the Bereavement Committee at Flagstaff Medical Center. For more information about FMC’s Bereavement programs, call 928 214-2731. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit