Coping with grief: an insight into navigating hard times

Salonaz Sami, Wednesday 17 Apr 2024

Ahram online talks to experts about the intricate layers of grief and guidance into the individual journey of hardship.


Grief is a deep sorrow that occurs after loss, be it the death of a loved one or even the loss of a job. However, it can look drastically different from one person to the next.

Grief derives from the Latin word 'gravare', which means 'to make heavy'.

"No matter how we go through grief, it is often an internal experience that is defined by panic and feelings of discomfort," explained sociologist and behaviour therapist Kenzy Atef, who specializes in family conflict, trauma, PTSD, and grief therapy.

The grief phase is an intense period of uncertainty, false hopes, and prayers. It is never easy to let go of something or someone we love. But with time and emotional effort, we can start to move forward with our lives while holding on to our cherished memories.

According to Kubler-Ross's Theory of loss, grief has multiple stages, most commonly recognized as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Some may not go through every stage, while others may experience them out of order. "Everyone uniquely experiences the stages of grief, and it is common for one particular stage to be more difficult to pass through than others," said Asaad Abdel-Rahaman, a professor of psychology at Zagazig University.

"The last thing anyone wants to hear is that a loved one has passed. Instead of accepting this news, we reject it and insist it can't be true. This is our way of avoiding the horrible feelings that come with a difficult loss," Abdel-Rahman added.

On the other hand, many will respond to grief with anger because it is easier to lash out than to feel the pain. For others, the devastating feeling of guilt will take over. "We start to wonder whether we could have prevented it from happening, or whether we should have said something before it was too late," Abdel Rahman explained, adding that this “mental unwillingness to confront reality is very hard to process when we are in it. However, with time everything passes."

Nevertheless, the concept of death is very complex because we have no idea what’s on the other side. "If your belief system doesn't support a positive concept of death, you may be more fearful of how death might feel," Fatima Al-Attar, a life coach explained.

However, while some may experience grief over the loss of a loved one, others may not initially feel anything at all. "Losing a loved one can be an overwhelming experience, yet some find themselves in a bewildering state of numbness at first," Al-Attar further noted.

Emotional numbness is the word that is often used to describe the absence of emotions. Feeling numb is, however, just a part of the grieving process.

According to Al-Attar, people who are feeling emotionally numb should be kind to themselves and allow themselves to sit with their grief and emotions rather than pretending they are not there.

"You will discover that acknowledging and accepting this numbness can be a step towards gradually reconnecting with your emotions and finding solace," she further explained.

It is helpful during mourning to confide in loved ones and welcome their support. However, it is equally important that you be able to spend time alone if you feel you need it.

According to Abdel-Rahman, many self-care practices can help you cope with grief, including “spending time in nature or with your pet, which can boost your mood and enhance your overall health.”

Pets help us feel less lonely and soothe depressive thoughts and feelings, he explained. 

Furthermore, writing your thoughts and feelings down during the grieving process can reveal your innermost wishes and desires regarding what you have lost. It might also help you become more aware of your true feelings and why you have them. 

Journaling certainly helps during the acceptance stage of grief. "At this stage, which often comes at the end of the grieving cycle, we accept that we have lost this person and start to find the peace that we need to move on," Atef explained.

"Be Always kind to yourself and remember that grieving is a deeply personal journey you should make at your own pace and rhythm. There is no right or wrong way to navigate it. Just allow yourself the space and time you need," Al-Attar noted.

While there is no cure for grief, getting appropriate support and treatment is the best thing to do when experiencing it. "If you don’t feel comfortable talking to those close to you about your loss, especially if they can't relate to what you are going through right now, you might consider finding a therapist or a counsellor," said Al-Attar.

"Talking to a professional therapist will help with the overwhelming feelings, and can make adjusting to life without whatever, or whoever, you have lost much easier," she further explained.

In conclusion, grief remains a highly individualistic experience that no two people can experience except differently, and despite sharing similar emotions or responses to loss, we have to chart our own course through grief.

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