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The Grief Process

The Grief Process


The grieving process reflects an emotional relationship with any loss, which may originate from a death, a divorce, a loss of employment, a diagnosis of sterility, retirement, a change of house, the departure of a child from home, a crippling disease – basically, in everything that represents the end of some part of our life, as we have known it until then.

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1. Grief

Grief However, when we are facing the end of a love relationship or the loss of a member of our body after an accident or surgery, or when we lose a pet, we are also talking about grief, in other words, all these situations they are examples of losses that the individual goes through throughout his life and that, obviously, he needs time to overcome this phase, but despite the different situations of grief, we tend to stick only to the grief process associated with death.

It is an individual process, as each one elaborates the suffering, the disruption, the idea of an end, in a unique way. Even when experiencing different grief processes, the same individual can – and probably will – react uniquely to each one of them.

There are a different set of feelings, which arise at the same or different stages of the grieving process. Sadness, anger, guilt (often irrational) and anxiety (with possible panic attacks) are the ones that usually come with the greatest intensity.

Anxiety can bring the fear of not being able to take care of oneself without the deceased, or even become a phobia, because the individual tends to start thinking about his own mortality.

2. Symptoms

Throughout the grieving process, it is natural for people to experience the following sensations:

    • Fatigue, apathy or disinterest in life in general;
    • Emotional and/or social loneliness;
    • Feeling helpless;
    • Shock;
    • Eager to recoup the loss;
    • Emancipation;
    • Relief, usually accompanied by a feeling of guilt;
    • Numbness, which often acts as a protection against the flood of emotions that overwhelms a person after learning of the loss.

There are also a number of possible physical symptoms which include:

    • Empty in the stomach;
    • Tightness in chest or throat;
    • Feeling short of breath;
    • Depersonalization (everything seems unreal);
    • Muscle weakness;
    • Dry mouth;
    • Greater noise sensitivity.

Other symptoms that may appear frequently are recurrent thoughts about what happened which, if they persist, can lead to depression or anxiety; the disbelief at what happened; the difficult concentration; the confusion that does not allow you to put ideas in order, leaving your memory compromised.

The grieving process can be quite painful and terrifying; from shock and confusion to balance, one has to go through “chaos”. However, all feelings are part of accepting the loss and help to make sense of it.

Sometimes, we are angry with the “theft” of beings that are dear to us and, often, we resort to inappropriate ways of mourning and living with the fact. Wanting to understand something that has no explanation leads to psychological distress, generating illnesses or mood changes that can sometimes lead to misunderstandings with symptoms of depression, especially due to the intensity of sadness and changes in sleep and appetite.


“All my life it stopped making sense, I couldn't go to work, I couldn't talk to anyone, I couldn't eat, I couldn't even do something as simple as taking care of my personal hygiene. When I realized the state I was in, I decided that I couldn't go on like this and I looked for help.”

3. 5 phases of grief

In most cases, it is possible to distinguish 5 main phases of the grieving process:

Phase 1 – Denial

The pain of the loss is so overwhelming that the tendency to minimize or deny what happened as a way of surviving it is the overriding first reaction.

Instant and sudden change can lead to a state of shock and apathy, and the person tends to flee from reality to a more tolerable one. However, this is a natural defense mechanism, as it provides time to assimilate all this new information, preventing an overload of negative emotions.

Phase 2- Rage

When you begin to realize that the loss is real, anger can be a way of tolerating the associated negative emotions, as it helps to “hide” vulnerabilities and fears from others, making it more socially acceptable. It is possible to blame other people or life in general, to react with anger towards friends, family or any higher entity.

Although it is likely to drive others away from us at a time when it would be important to have them around, it is an important emotion to be truly felt so that it soon wears off and the grieving process continues.

Phase 3 – Negotiation

There remains a false hope and the person tries to negotiate – it can be with God, for example – as a way to try to avoid grief.

The question “What if…?” it starts to appear frequently, associated with guilt, and the person seems willing to do everything so that life can return to normal. Promises such as “If God heals him I will completely change my life and be with him more”, “I promise I will be a better person if he lives” to any higher power are common, in an attempt to change the result.

Stage 4 – Depression

It is the most generally accepted form of mourning. The emptiness that the person or situation leaves leads to a loss of general interest and feelings of hopelessness, and may even lead to suicidal ideation. Although depression is normal in a grieving process, if its prevalence exceeds the first year of death, it is considered clinically relevant and needs specialized intervention.

There is, however, a distinctive factor: in depressed individuals there is a deficit of self-esteem, with a consequent negative view of themselves, others and the world, which does not occur in the grieving process.

Phase 5 – Acceptance

At the end of the grief process, the person stops resisting the reality of the situation and does not try to change it in any way, despite still feeling the pain of the loss. Regret and guilt may remain, however previous moments of refusal, negotiation and anger dissipate.

Emotions start to stabilize, the (new) routine is established without the person, being a period of readaptation.

During these stages of the mourning process, a series of symptoms may coexist, including the sensation of a possible presence, sleep disorders that include the fear of dreaming or not waking up, distraction and forgetfulness, isolation, disturbances in the food level that they can lead to eating more or less than usual, weight variations, crying attacks, agitation to the point of losing serenity, avoidance or, on the contrary, the constant desire to get in touch with places and objects that remind you the deceased person.


Grief is a process, a set of reactions and emotions, resulting from a very impactful loss (eg death). However, it applies to several situations in which an abrupt and definitive absence occurs.

The grieving process aims to make the person aware that their loved one can never be replaced, however, it is important to move forward and adjust to a new reality. For this, sometimes more present help is needed.


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