I was 15 years old when I had my first encounter with death. I lost my best friend – my father. Losing someone that close changed me as a person, but not before I went through some intense grieving. Experiencing grief during any type of tragedy is normal and can look different for any individual. There are actually five stages of grieving, four of which I experienced several times while mourning my father’s death.
Denial is typically the first stage of grieving. In many cases it’ll be hard to believe that someone you have known and loved has stopped being a part of your life in some way. So hard to believe, that you deny it all together. After losing my father, I refused to believe that he wouldn’t be there when I came home from school every day. When it came time for my graduation three years later, I believed he was going to be present. Deep down I knew he wasn’t, but it was so hard for me not to think that he would be. This is normal in losing someone in your life. When someone is a part of your everyday life, it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that they aren’t anymore. The natural progression is denial.
Anger is the phase where you feel mad at the world. When my father passed away, I became a very angry person. Angry at him, myself and the world. I was furious that he didn’t take better care of himself, resulting in his death of a heart attack at the age of only 35. I was mad at myself for not trying to help others bring him back while he was suffering from the attack. I was mad at the world for not understanding what I was dealing with. In reality, I knew everything was out of my control, but I was still angry. Finding healthy outlets of expressing my anger was how I made it through being so furious. I turned to talking with friends and family about my angry feelings, and eventually developed my current hobby of photography. It’s necessary to know that the feeling of anger is natural, even when that anger is directed at God. Maybe you’re upset that He made a good person suffer a great deal of pain and you don’t think it’s fair. You could be upset that He is ruining your life just as you’re learning to become the person He created you to be. Showing signs of anger doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a healthy one for being able to demonstrate such strong emotions.
Bargaining refers to having a false hope that the news of the death is reversible if you do something specific to alter the situation. Praying to God and telling Him that you’ll never fight with your siblings again if He brings back your lost loved one is an example of bargaining. It’s important to know that what you’re pleading for isn’t realistic. I personally did not go through the stage of bargaining. I think that I knew no matter what I did, I couldn’t control what had happened. That isn’t the case with everyone. You may find solace in this stage because it provides a way to hold sway over your undesirable circumstance. Bargaining is a way to feel like you have control over the situation, whether it’s reasonable or not.
The stage of Depression is when you feel hollow inside because you’re so full of sorrow and pain that you feel weighed down and useless. This is the stage that I experienced the most. After the loss of my father, I struggled with many different life events that he wasn’t able to attend. All of which, triggered my depression. When I received my driver’s license, went through serious relationships, graduated from high school and even now as I am going into my third year of college. All things that he promised me he would be there for, but he isn’t, and he won’t be. I’m no longer mad at him for leaving, but it hurts. I know it’ll hurt for various milestones in my life, and that’s OK. As I’ve aged, I have learned how to combat these feelings, and they become less intense as time passes. It’s important to know the difference between being sad and having depression. Experiencing sadness comes from something upsetting happening, but it’s a feeling that can change relatively quick. Having depression is a mental illness that affects more than just your mood, but rather your daily life. Symptoms of depression may include low energy levels, sleeping and appetite problems and constantly having negative thoughts. When you experience the death of a loved one, it’s typical to develop depression. It’s important to have people to talk to about your feelings after such a great loss. If you think you’re developing depression, or are depressed, access help through a counselor, loved one, youth leader or mentor.
Acceptance is the last stage of the grieving process. This is also the stage to look forward to. Acceptance during the grieving process is completely coming to terms with the death and moving on from it healthily. Losing my father was by far the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with in life so far. I accepted his absence in my life rather quickly, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t experience the other stages lightly. Acceptance does not mean being OK with the death, but rather understanding the fact that the loved one is not coming back. You’ll never be able to replace this person, but you can certainly remember him or her for who he or she was and keep living.
Losing someone who’s close to you can be one of the most difficult things in your life, but it’s manageable. It’s common to go through the stages of grief after experiencing the loss of a loved one but it’s important to remember a few things:
- These are stages, not steps.
- You may go through some of these stages more than once. This is normal and expected. Going through these stages and having an abundance of feelings, especially after losing someone, is what makes us human. There’s no right way to grieve. Don’t let anyone tell you that it doesn’t seem like you’re grieving, or that you’re doing it wrong.
- You may not go through some of the stages. This is also normal. Not going through some of these stages does not make you any less of a person.
- You are not alone in losing a loved one. When you lose someone close to you, it’ll feel as if you’re all alone in this world full of support. Sometimes you might feel like you’re suffocating on your feelings and that no one else understands what you’re dealing with. Others do understand. When you feel like you’re alone, or you don’t want to let anyone in yet, know that He is there to support you.
- Grieving does not equate to death. When the word grieving comes up, it’s easy to only think about death. The stages of grieving can be experienced at any time. This can include, but is not limited to, a loss of a loved one, experiencing a break-up, a bad grade on an exam, or even losing a game. Experiencing the stages of grieving during these moments does not make you irresponsible in your feelings.
In losing my father, I have become a stronger and more developed individual who will keep blossoming. The journey that I started after losing my father is one that will never end, but I know that the hardest parts are over. Losing my father taught me a lot about myself and the way life works as well. I miss him every day that passes, but I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without his passing and the grieving that came because of my loss.