Bereavement counseling is a service that Salus Hospice offers to the families of patients in hospice care. This service typically is one that families take advantage of in the weeks and months after their loved one passes, and it can help them to understand what they’re experiencing and learn to cope and prepare for their life ahead.

A question that people often ask in the first grief counseling sessions is – what should I expect? What does grieving “look” like? Much like life, grieving is individual, so there’s no perfect answer to this question. However, there are some aspects of the grieving process that are common from person to person. They can often be better understood when we talk about the stages and symptoms of grief.

Whether your loved one is in hospice and perhaps nearing death or you’re a person who has recently lost someone that’s close to you, here’s a little information that might help you to better understand your unique grieving process and what the experience might be like.

Stages of Grief

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Death and Dying talks about the grieving process in stages. This landmark book was published in 1969 and is still one that counselors turn to today. In the simplest of terms, it introduces the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

While these stages are common, it’s important to look a little deeper. Simply considering the “stages” of grief makes this appear as if it’s a linear process – you “finish” one stage and move on to the next, on down the list until you complete your grieving process. However, it’s important to remember that the grieving process is unique. So while one person might move from step to step, another person might start at stage two, move to stage one, then skip to stage four and then back to stage two again.

The truth is, there’s no straight path to the grieving process and there’s really no “normal” either. What’s right for one person might not be the experience of another. In recognizing this, we can better understand why it’s also important to look at the symptoms of grief.

Symptoms of Grief

The symptoms of grief are physical, emotional, spiritual and mental reactions that you might have after a loved one passes. You can experience one today, have it diminish tomorrow and then return a week or even a month later. Again we’ll emphasize that this is normal. It might not be the same experience that your friend or loved one is having – in fact, it likely won’t be – but just as you’re unique, your grieving process will be unique too.

Common Experiences When Mourning

To understand the symptoms of grief, it’s important to look at feelings, mental reactions, spiritual reactions and physical reactions. In most cases, people will experience some of each, but they might not experience all of these symptoms, rather, their experience will be their own.

Common feelings mourners experience include shock, anxiousness, sadness, anger, uselessness, shame, disbelief, fear, loneliness, relief, thankfulness, strength, excitement, apathy, confusion and weakness.

Common mental reactions that one might experience include lack of concentration, increased or decreased dreams, uncertainty when making decisions, blaming yourself, increased nightmares, feeling like you’re being watched or analyzed by everyone and low self-esteem.

Common physical reactions to grief include lack of sleep or complete exhaustion, weight loss or weight gain, tense muscles, feeling like your heart is pounding, elevated blood pressure, suddenly having a lot of energy, a desire to constantly stay busy, or migraines, stomach pains and a lowered immune system.

Common spiritual reactions to grief include anger directed toward a higher power, feeling very close to a higher power, indecisiveness about your personal belief system, feeling lost or empty, or finding hope in prayer, meditation, time alone or reflection.

Grief is so unique, and your path toward accepting a loss will almost certainly look different than everyone else’s. Remember that this is okay and even normal, but also make sure you’re taking care of yourself. If your feelings turn toward hurting yourself or another person or even ending your own life, it’s time to get help. And even when your grieving process is normal, there’s benefit in speaking with a grief counselor, attending grief therapy group sessions or finding some other way to talk through your experience. Salus San Gabriel Valley is here for you. If you’re feeling alone, please reach out.