By Dr. Arnold Hoskins, M.Th., D.Mgt.
Since COVID-19, death and dying have become more and more the center and subject of our daily lives. Even with all the global wars and genocides and famines, death has never been more prevalent than it is these days with over 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone and over 1 million deaths worldwide. The sad reality is that these numbers grow exponentially each day. We can only imagine the number of families and friends who have been impacted by loss.
Researchers and physicians have long studied grief and its effects. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, undertook an extensive study to examine how terminally ill patients adjusted to their imminent death, and discovered a pattern that describes the process of those who grieve. (Gregory, 2020)
Her grief model consists of five stages: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression and (5) acceptance. Although those who grieve may not experience all of these stages or even may experience them in a different order, many will experience most of the stages of this model.
Grief has a long and lasting effect on everyone, and the extent to which one is affected varies among individuals. Accordingly, there is no timetable for grieving.
Most scholars agree that grief is categorically classified into two groups.
First, there is what is called “acute grief.” This category is characterized by signs of grief which lasts anywhere from six to 12 months. Secondly, there is “prolonged grief.” This category of grief is associated with more extended periods of grieving that typically extend beyond 12 months. In the latter category, the griever could benefit from spending time with a grief counselor to help them navigate through the process of grief.
During your grief process, these steps may help you to manage your grief: (Eisma, 2021)
- Tune in to your Source of Strength. You are genetically built with internal strengths, such as self-determination, hope and resilience. Thus, your source of strength is inside of you. The key is to tap into your source of strength by centering yourself to leverage your strength.
Your source of strength may be prayer, meditation, or yoga. Sources like these may help release agonizing tension, bring you a sense of calm, and help to restore your inner strength. At the same time, some people may be so overwhelmed in their grief they require external sources of strength to supplement what they already possess. These might include support from family, positive friends, or sessions with a grief counselor.
- Turn it Up. Oftentimes when you grieve, you may experience a loss of appetite. You may engage in a “sugar diet” that stimulates you and makes you temporarily feel better until you “crash.” Engaging in a healthy diet will not only provide you with a nutritious balanced diet, but it will restore your energy without the side effects of a sugar diet.
- Work Out/Walk It Out. Researchers have discovered that exercising or walking is a viable treatment to reducing sadness and fatigue for those who grieve. They have also discovered that exercising or walking reproduces one’s well-being, helps to restore mobile functioning, and reproduces energy that is often lost because of grief. (Alisha L. Brosse, 2002)
Dr. Eric Bui and other researchers suggest that engaging in a body-mind program decreases the mental and physical stress. This kind of program serves as a new coping mechanism and when performed with a partner or in a group, it provides the social support needed to help with grief-related stress. (Eric Bui, 2017)
- Take on a new task. The loss of a loved one cannot be replaced by anyone or anything. However, loss does present us with an opportunity to create new traditions, new rituals and engage in new tasks.
Scholars believe that post traumatic growth is a means to foster positive psychological changes and helps us grow beyond our grief.
There are at least three benefits to taking on a new task: (i) it begins the process of coping with one’s loss; (ii) it cognitively shifts your thinking from a negative realm of thought to a more positive one; and (iii) it counteracts one’s emotional distress. New tasks create a new birth that manifests new possibilities. (Rama Krsna Rajandram, 2011)
- Stay connected. While it is not uncommon to want to be alone when your loved one dies, support systems are important to those who are grieving. Support systems not only include close family members and friends, but they can also include grief support groups or individual professional grief counseling.
Communication is key to coping, and sometimes talking to someone who has experienced loss can be a powerful healer. Whatever method you choose to stay connected is completely based on what makes you feel comfortable. (Nordal, 2011)
- Wind down. Grieving is often emotionally draining, and this often leads to sleepless nights. To wind down, you must set the mood. Music, chamomile tea, and a hot bath is a perfect remedy to winding down and getting a good night’s sleep. Music will soothe your soul, the chamomile tea sends signals to the brain and decreases your anxiety, and a hot bath relaxes the tense muscles in your body.
In a recent study, scientists discovered that healthy habits create healthy results. Therefore, a grief strategic plan is necessary for the self-care you need to wind down.
- Live Their Legacy. Honoring loved ones or memorializing them is a common practice.
At funerals, friends and families often share words of endearment or stories associated with their relationship with their loved ones. Even co-workers may dress up their colleague’s workstation, create candy stalls, or display photos around the office to celebrate shared life. Since grieving is a life-long reality and takes on many forms, living your loved one’s legacy fosters their eternal existence. For example, starting a foundation, a college fund, or being an organ donor.
As a Chaplain, I have often shared stories of my late father and brother as a way of living their legacy. Sharing these fond memories has allowed me to live their legacy with others. The key to living the legacy of your loved one is to choose how you want them to be remembered.
In this article, I acknowledge the reality of death, and sought to share with you the help and healing that is available during your grief. This article explains the stages of grief, the steps to manage grief, and the restoration of grief.
The final takeaway from this article is to know that death is not the final chapter, but the beginning of a new reality.
Dr, Arnold Hoskins, M.Th.,DM is a licensed pastor at the United Methodist church and a clinically trained Chaplain at the University of Chicago Medicine, specializing in palliative spiritual care. Dr. Hoskins supports patients, families, physicians and staff through emotional trauma.