People experience loss daily. The grief felt as a result of loss is hard to deal with – let alone discuss and process. And, as a Nigerian-American, my experience has been that we often don’t talk about our emotions and many times veer away from topics that lend themselves to discussions about mental health. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma about mental health in the Nigerian community. A lot of times, grief (or bereavement) is painted in a negative light. However, we grieve because we love. Grief is simply a byproduct of love that is expressed through the sorrow caused by any form of personal loss. It is natural and very normal to grieve the loss of someone or something. Grief comes is many different shapes and forms and people experience and express it in many different ways. As a result, different mental health professionals describe the process and stages of grief in different ways. The following are some popular theories of grief from well-known psychologists and researchers:
Elisabeth Kubler – Ross’s Stages of Grief
- Denial (believing the loss isn’t real and holding on to a false reality)
- Anger (frustration after the denial subsides – “why me?” “this isn’t fair”)
- Bargaining (hope that grief can be avoided in exchange for something else – “I’d give anything to have my job back”)
- Depression (a period of mourning and despair – “I’ve lost my loved one, why go on?”
- Acceptance (embracing the notion that events such as death cannot be avoided)
J.W. Worden – Four Tasks of Mourning
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To work through the pain of grief
- To adjust to life without the deceased
- To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life
Margaret Stroebe and Hank Schut – Dual process model of bereavement identifies two major tasks of grief
- Loss-oriented activities and stressors are those directly related to the death.
- These include crying, yearning, experiencing sadness, denial, or anger, dwelling on the circumstances of the death, and avoiding restoration activities.
- Restoration-oriented activities and stressors are associated with secondary losses with regard to lifestyle, routine, and relationships.
- These include adapting to a new role, managing changes, developing new ways of connecting with family and friends, and cultivating a new way of life.
People express grief in many different ways. Some cry, some laugh, some are stoic, and some are indifferent. People process grief in many different ways. Some like to talk, some like to write, or use other creative outlets to express themselves. Some people like to be in the company of others while grieving while others prefer to be alone. It is important to note that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. However, some ways can be more harmful than others, such as the use of drugs to numb one’s feelings. In addition, people grieve for various amounts of time – there is no set amount of time to grieve.
There are many ways to cope with grief. Seeking support from loved ones and friends, finding creative outlets, maintaining healthy habits, participating in hobbies and interests, drawing comfort from one’s faith, and joining support groups are a few ideas. If grief becomes debilitating, extremely concerning, brings about thoughts of harm to oneself or others, and/ or impedes in one’s ability to maintain day to day functioning, therapy is an effective way to manage the symptoms, learn techniques to help you cope, and discover healthy ways to remember and connect with one’s loss.
If you know someone experiencing grief, the most important thing one can do to support them is be present. Because people experience grief in different ways, support can vary. However, below are some tips of things to do:
- Do not place any specific expectations on the individual (time expectations, behavior expectations, etc.).
- Understand that grief has stages that are not always linear (they may be accepting of the loss one day and in denial the next).
- Avoid telling the person that things will be fine or that the loss was for a greater purpose, or that you understand how they feel, or things that “sound nice”. This is not what a person who has just lost someone or something wants to hear. They just want to know that you are there. Instead, you can just say sorry and that you are there to help comfort them in any way you can.
- Ask them how you can help them/ what they need.
- Check on them even after it seems like things have “settled”. This is often them most lonely and difficult period.
Grief can be very complicated. But, above all, it is important to remember that grief is normal and necessary. If you have any further questions about grief, feel free to contact me.
Abisola Adepegba, MA, LCPC, NCC
“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) does not define bereavement as a disorder, but preexisting conditions like major depression, or repercussions associated with the trauma of a death, such as acute stress or posttraumatic stress, can complicate bereavement. Normal symptoms of bereavement can mimic those of depression, but these symptoms typically pass within two months of the loss. For those who may be vulnerable to depression, grief has the potential to precipitate a depressive episode, and for those who already experience depression, the bereavement process can be prolonged and worsened by the depression. What distinguishes grief from depression is that the feelings of grief are specifically related to the loss or death, and depression is characterized by a general sense of worthlessness, despair, and lack of joy.” (Goodtherapy.org)
Abisola Adepegba is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has been working in the field for the past 6 years. She holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from The George Washington University. Born in Nigeria and raised in Bowie, MD, Abisola surmounted many personal hurdles in her life. She is particularly interested in educating those within the African diaspora communities about mental health as well as advocating for and reducing the stigma about mental heath within those communities. She is a proud Army spouse and new mom who enjoys reading, writing, shopping, and spending time with people.