Though grief happens every day, it looks different for everyone. When you lose a loved one, it can feel like your whole earth is shattered. As you process your emotions while handling a funeral, you may feel lost, angry, or numb. Luckily, some commonalities among grieving friends and family members across the board can help you to understand your own grief better and muster up the strength to handle a funeral.
The Grieving Process:
- Your journey through grief depends on several factors, including your relationship with the deceased, your own history with death, your involvement in post-death tasks, and external factors in your life. The five stages of grief are commonly referred to, yet many people don’t fully understand how these stages work. Though they are typically listed as one through five, they do not necessarily occur chronologically, and many people will move between the stages in a repetitive cycle. There is no timeline to grief, and you may sit in the stages for minutes, days, months, or years.
- The first stage of grief is denial. While this is not always the case, denial typically occurs before the other stages. Upon hearing about the death of a loved one, it may be hard to believe that it’s real, or you may feel numbness before you feel sad. Denial is a survival response that allows you to continue functioning with a sense of detachment from the crisis. The days following a person’s death are often laden with “to-dos” and essential tasks. Without this denial response, it is possible that you may be so overcome with emotions that you cannot function.
- The second stage of grief is anger. No crystal ball will reveal who you are going to be angry at. You may feel anger towards the deceased, family members, medical professionals, friends, or even the universe. Regardless of where your anger is directed, it is valid and necessary for healing. Many people return to anger several times throughout the grieving process, and the more you allow yourself to feel angry, the faster it will go away.
- The third stage of grief is bargaining. Often confused with guilt, bargaining is the stage of grief that begins when you find yourself thinking of all the “what-ifs.” Your mind will likely start playing scenarios of how you or someone else may have been able to save the person. Bargaining keeps you living in the past and wondering how the death could have been prevented when there is typically no answer.
- The fourth stage of grief is depression. Not to be confused with mental illness, depression after death is one of the most common feelings for anyone who has lost a loved one. This deep sadness typically begins once you realize your loved one is truly gone. Like all the stages, this stage can last from days to years.
- The fifth and final stage of grief is acceptance. Acceptance comes when the loss no longer consumes your mind and your life. While it is still painful, you have chosen to leave it in the past, and the longer you stay in this stage, the more peace you experience. Throughout this final stage, it is not unusual to revisit the other stages briefly. Remember that grief looks different for everyone, and showing yourself some grace during the grieving process is important.
Handling a Funeral:
- When planning the funeral for a loved one, it is important to find support. Lean on friends and family members and be reassured that you don’t have to do everything alone. Find a funeral home where you feel comfortable and allow people to help when they offer. No matter who you are, when the day of the funeral comes, you can take a few steps to prepare yourself for a difficult service. Always follow the dress code imposed by the family. While standard attire is semi-formal and dark colors, some families will request that attendees wear bright colors or fun patterns. Remember to take care of your physical needs (eating, sleeping, staying hydrated) before the funeral, and remain mindful of your emotional state throughout the service. Try not to repress any emotions, as this is a safe place to express your feelings. Listen to the stories and memories shared about your loved one and do your best to remember the fond times during their earthly presence. Glance around the room and observe all of the people who are there because they also love the person who has passed. Find comfort in knowing that your loved one is resting peacefully, and take care of yourself in the days and weeks following the funeral by reaching out to friends and family and accepting support when needed.