"Although the experience of grief in some form or another is universal, our reactions within the overall process vary widely. Newer research and my own experience tell me that, really, there are not stages of grief but an array of feelings that arise," says Dr. Phil. These emotions pop up in a specific order, and it's rare that one set ends completely before another begins. More likely, you'll experience a number of emotions " perhaps one at a time, perhaps three at a time.
Consider the following when you experience a loss in your life:
Give Your Emotions Free Rein
"Initially, you may feel as though you're living in a fog, simply going through the motions of day-to-day life as if on autopilot," Dr. Phil says. You may cry so much that your eyes feel parched, or be surprised to find that you're not crying at all. Neither reaction is right or wrong; it just is. If the latter is the case, you may feel a surge of guilt wondering why you can't even eke out a tear for someone you cared so much about. The spectrum of emotions that you may experience is huge. It can range from shock and numbness, to fear and panic, to anger and resentment.
Sometimes this can be magnified if you have unfinished emotional business with the person who died. You didn't get to say what you wanted to say, or you didn't hear the "I'm sorry" or "I love you" that you desperately needed to hear. Or maybe your goodbye did happen, but not the way you planned.
It's hard to accept that a future without your loved one is your new reality; the mere thought of it can make you feel amazingly empty and alone. The yearning for their presence may feel as if it is going to consume you.
Struggling with Your Faith
You may feel a sense of spiritual emptiness, or feel that you were betrayed by your faith, or experience feelings or bitterness, anger and disappointment in your religion. After all, if the God you believe in is so good, how could he take away something you loved so intensely? How could he allow a senseless or violent death to occur? This is painful and confusing and something many, many people experience â€" especially when innocent children are the victims.
Coping with Guilt
Guilt may also factor in during the weeks and months after a loss â€" guilt over being unable to save your loved one or about just living your life. At some point you will likely catch yourself laughing or relaxing. It's natural to actually start to feel better at some point after grieving a loss. It's also natural to feel guilty about it. You may think, "How can I stand enjoying myself when my son is dead?" If you realize that a day has gone by when you didn't think about your loved one (which may or may not happen in time), you may feel guilty that you're "forgetting" him or her. If it takes a short amount of time to recover from a loss doesn't mean you only loved a little. The depth, breadth, and longevity of your grief are not a reflection of how much you cared about the person.
Adapted from Dr. Phil's new book Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life, available September 16, 2008.