Living Through Loss

Grieving the loss of a loved one is extraordinarily difficult. There are so many phases you go through from the initial shock of the loss to the soul wrenching realization you’ll never see them again in this lifetime. I’m not delving into the multitude of spiritual beliefs on the subject, but rather the grief itself and what it’s like.

In 2018 we lost my dad. It was wholly unexpected and extremely traumatic. This was one month after losing my best friend, and four months after losing my dog of 18 years. 2018 was not a great year… Side note: if you don’t know your risk for PE blood clots, it’s easy to find out.

Talk to your doctor about it please.

The grief began the moment I realized he couldn’t be saved. The doctors had done everything possible, and a new reality was forming. Living in a world without my dad.

I was told there were stages of grief. That I’d go through each one and end up accepting the loss eventually. To take one day at a time, all things happen for a reason, etc. The phases are listed below, along with some advice for dealing with each. I won’t pretend to be an expert in psychology or anything like that, but since we’ve all dealt with loss or will someday I wanted you to know you are not alone in your feelings, and they are likely normal.

Phases of Grief:

  1. Disbelief and Shock
    1. For me this was when we left the hospital knowing I’d never see him again in this life. Forcing myself to keep going, to help my mom, and try to make my brain work.
    2. When you’re in shock your brain goes into a sort of autopilot mode. You may find you just stare blankly, start a task and forget what you’re doing while you’re doing it. If you’re able to move around you may find yourself bumping into walls and things because your whole body feels off kilter.
  2. Denial
    1. This is what we felt for the first 6 months or so. Expecting dad to call me in the morning like he’d been doing (to help me wake up). Being sure you can almost hear his cheerios pouring into a bowl in the kitchen downstairs at 3am when he’s getting ready for work. And when I finally returned home again, having to go inside knowing I wouldn’t see him.
    2. The denial passed after about 6 months, but it’s been 4 years next month, and sometimes it still doesn’t seem real.
  3. Guilt and Pain
    1. I had a lot of guilt. PE blood clots are fast killers and my CPR skills were rudimentary at best. Not being able to save him has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to live with.
    2. For many, guilt and pain exists for different reasons. From the “I love you” that wasn’t said to the forgiveness never given. This pain and guilt will subside slightly over time, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with now. Sometimes forgiving yourself is a good first step.
  4. Bargaining
    1. This usually takes the form of asking whichever higher power you believe in to bring your loved one back, make them better, and if that higher power does that you’ll do such and such.
  5. Anger
    1. This was a hard phase for me, and it regularly intertwined with the depression phase. First you’re angry because your loved one was taken from you, then you’re depressed because you miss them.
    2. Anger presents in lashing out, having a short temper, and though therapy can help medication may be needed too. If you have supportive loved ones to help you through this phase you will likely fare better. But if those around you are not supportive, kind, or compassionate then the phase may be harder to manage and cope with. If that’s the case, joining a support group would help.
  6. Depression
    1. This is the phase I still struggle with, but at first it was horrible. It’s normal to need to cry at random, and when you feel that need it’s healthiest to let the tears out.
    2. I was told to try and think of good memories when you feel depressed about the loss. Redirecting your brain to positive thoughts can reduce your depressive feelings.
  7. Acceptance
    1. I’ve probably reached this phase, but it’s hard to tell sometimes.
    2. I couldn’t have written this without becoming emotional if I hadn’t accepted the loss to some degree.

Grief happens to everyone during their life. Know that how you feel is likely normal, that this horrible feeling won’t last forever, and to cut yourself some slack when it comes to processing your grief.

By Gretchen Hendrick Gardella, MLIS

Gretchen Hendrick Gardella is a Librarian with administrative, research, and vast technical skills. Ms. Gardella brings over 16 years of experience working in academic and public libraries to the discussion.