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Stages of grief take time, especially for young people

By Megan Martin

Many teenagers do not understand the first thing about losing a person and the grief that comes with it.  With the recent loss of one of our own seniors, many students now have to try to cope with grief and loss.

Losing someone one knew or loved is very painful.  After the loss, the emotional suffering many people feel is called grief.  There is never a right or wrong way to grieve, and it is a highly individualized process.  The way one grieves depends on a number of factors, and the healing process takes time.  There is absolutely no “normal” timeline for grieving.  Some people will start grieving immediately, while some will take a few months or years for the grieving to start.  Grieving will come naturally, so there is never a right or wrong way to go about it.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the six stages of grief.

The first stage many will experience is denial.  This can include feeling numb, or not really feeling anything at all.  Many thoughts people have  include:  “I can’t believe he/she is gone”, or “I feel like I am just going to see him/her at school tomorrow”.  This stage may take time because it is going to be hard for the death to truly sink in.

The second stage is anger.  This is after the death has set in, and the person grieving is feeling some very strong emotions, normally expressed in anger.  One may not know why they are angry, or how to control it.  In this stage, it is important to try to express the anger in a healthy and positive way such as talking to someone about it or writing down one’s feelings in a journal.

After anger comes bargaining.  This is an attempt to recover from the loss experienced.  Often, this is making a promise to get something in return.  This can lead to behaving like a perfectionist, or expressing demands or threats.

Stage four is depression.  This is when the mourner realizes that this change is permanent.  People can feel too sad or have no motivation to do anything for an extended period of time.  This is generally the hardest stage to overcome.  The stage of depression in the grieving process is different from clinical depression.  In grieving, there are still moments and even days of feeling happy, while with clinical depression there are only feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Stage five is acceptance.  This is the period that is more calm after the intense period of emotions.  This is when the mourner begins to want to go on with life.

The final stage is hope.  This is when the person gets more physical energy, has a positive outlook, and a renewed interest in friendship.

“People can bounce around from one (stage of grief) to another,” psychologist Ashley McDaid said.  The grieving process does not always go in this order, and one might even skip one of the stages.  Even after the grieving process is over, one may still feel periods of intense emotional pain.  Generally as time goes on, the periods of intense emotional pain last for a shorter period of time and do not affect a mourners’ daily life.

Common symptoms of someone who is grieving correlate with the stages of grief.  The first is feeling shocked and despair.  Another common symptom is feeling angry at anything or everything.  Sadness is the most profound symptom people will feel during mourning.  There is also the feeling of guilt and regret.  People can feel guilty about not being able to stop the death, or even for having moments of happiness and not thinking about the deceased one hundred percent of the time.

Even though grieving is mainly mental, one can also get physical symptoms such as feeling tired all the time, nausea,  weight loss or gain and insomnia.

Finally, as C.S Lewis wrote in his book “A Grief Observed”, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”  Losing someone can make the mourner feel anxious, insecure, and helpless about what is going to happen in the future.

When teens lose a peer, they tend to grieve differently than an adult would.  McDaid says that teens tend to find solace in other teens/friends their age instead of adults.  In some cases, the loss of a close friend can hurt a teen much more than a loss of a family member would.  In some cases, the parents of the mourner do not understand the level of friendship the teen and the deceased had, making them not the best person to talk to.  The most important thing to remember in mourning, is to always reach out to someone, whether it is a parent, friend, or psychologist, and talk about it.

When trying to deal with the grief and sadness that comes with losing someone close, it is important to practice healthy coping methods.  The first and most important way of coping is to talk to someone one trusts or a professional.  Support is the only way one will get through the grieving process, and is vital to heal.

Another way to cope is to write down one’s feelings and anger in a journal (very cliche, but it helps).  It is also common to print out pictures of the deceased and make a scrapbook of their life or just to keep them somewhere safe to look at when desired.  Finally, the mourner should write down all the memories one wants to keep of the deceased, because unfortunately they will fade over time.

During the grieving process, it is vital to grieve in a healthy way.  But if you find yourself cutting or participating in drugs and alcohol, it is imperative to reach out for help immediately.  Participating in these activities will only hurt you in the long term.  You should also make sure to get help if you: feel like life is not worth living, wish you had died with the loved one, blame yourself for the loss, if you are feeling numb and disconnected for more than a few weeks, if you are having difficulty trusting others since your loss, or if you are unable to perform your normal daily activities.

There is a community of support at AHS.  Available to every student is counselling in the student-based health center as well as counseling with the school counselors.  In the event of a crisis or tragedy, the school psychologists and other special psychologists who come to campus are also available.

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