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At some point in our life each of us will experience the loss of someone we love dearly. With loss comes grief. Although grief is a universal emotion it may be one of the most intimate and personal feelings we ever experience. Losing a loved one evokes anxiety and feelings of loneliness that we may have never known before. Even though we may be lucky to have family and friends to support us, we feel alone in our grief.
There may be times when grief seems everlasting and the pain and discomfort feels like it will never dissipate. It is true that grief has its own life span, but there are identifiable stages of grief that can help individuals navigate through their journey.
• Immediately following a loss you may feel numb. The responsibility of focusing on medical care for your loved one, making final arrangements and managing the paper work that comes after a death may sometimes shadow the reality of your loss. When all of the “housekeeping” is complete you may even experience a feeling of disconnection wondering if your loved one is really gone.
• When the “realness” of the situation begins to seep through, an extreme sadness may overcome you. This stage is often the most difficult and most frightening. It may also be the longest lasting stage.
• Over time this sadness will decrease and you may feel a reluctant acceptance of your loved one’s death. As this acceptance takes hold you will realize that life does move forward and you can return to living even without him/her present each day. Life will be different, but you will experience joy again.
Our society has made great strides in understanding end-of-life issues as they relate to the patient – we still have a long way to travel to understand the impact of loss on those who are left behind. Friends and family members may suggest you “move on” or “get over it”. Grief is not something you have control over. Sometimes the loneliness of grief causes us to forget that help is available. Supports groups and individual counseling are available. It is when you are experiencing your lowest moment, that reaching out is most important. With time and support you will be able to look forward to the future once again.
Editor’s Note: Judith Pilchik Zucker, LCSW, is a Bereavement Coordinator and Counselor with the Saint Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center (SBHPCC). For information about bereavement programs and services offered by the SBHPCC, please call 973-322-4817 or visit www.sbhcshospice.com.