10 Nov The Three Major Waves of Grief
An effective approach to the grief process is to view it like the ebb and flow of the waves of the ocean. But unlike ocean waves, there is no way to predict when the waves will hit us; those mini or daily waves which take our breath away. Overall, however, grief tends to unfold in three major waves.
The first wave of grief is the “Avoidance of Reality.” It generally describes the time immediately after a loss. During this time, you are often in a form of denial or emotional shock: “You know” (head level) but “You don’t know” (heart level). This period of shock or numbness, does have its purpose: It allows you to plan for a funeral ritual and attend to legal or time sensitive matters. As time proceeds, you think you are “doing well” but as this first wave subsides, so does the numbness.
The second wave is often referred to as the “Encounter with Reality.” It starts to descend upon you and the stages of grief feel shattered because you are not “feeling better” with time; instead, you “feel worse”. The reality of the death of your loved one becomes more real. The support received from others gradually diminishes, the “busyness” during the time after the death has ended, and you return to routines which trigger the absence of our loved one. This IS the most challenging and painful time of grief. It’s when you may question your sanity and perhaps engage in “mourning avoiding behaviours” to avoid or lessen the pain.
During this wave you start to process your pain and mourning fully. This wave will also subside and give way to the third wave known as the “Reconciliation with Reality.” \ In this wave, the “heart knows what the head always knew”. You come to acknowledge the reality of the death and create a revised life for yourself while finding creative and meaningful ways to remain connected to your loved one. You also realize that the relationship with your loved has changed but has not ended. You can move forward with your life with an understanding that you are still lovingly connected with them. You find purpose and meaning while holding your loved one in your heart.
These waves of grief also apply to the collective, global grief we are experiencing because of COVID-19. We have lost the life we knew due to the virus. Perhaps we avoided the reality of the threat of this virus in our daily lives. Maybe we were “aware” of the threat but did not take all the precautions seriously. Did we wait and watch how it affected other parts of the world not believing or wanting to believe it could affect us? As time progressed, the reality of the threat of this virus became more real: physical distancing, work from/stay at home, increased good hygiene, is now our reality. We are tolerating this “new normal” with anticipation that it will end sooner than later. But it is lasting much longer than we had ever imagined or hoped. Are we now in the “Encounter wave of COVID-19”?
You may be questioning how long will this last? Can I tolerate this? Do I have a choice? What will happen if I give in? I think we are currently in the “encounter” wave of COVID-19. This is the very difficult part of grief, BUT it is the normal response when we are deprived from something or someone of personal significance. This has gone on all too long you may be telling yourself daily just as a grieving person does after their loved one’s death. Can I go on……?
At this point in our collective grief experience we must go on…. not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones and humanity. We cannot afford the chance of giving in to something which is bigger than ourselves. The price of giving in may be too high a price. Too many lives have been lost to COVID-19. Much like the grief after the death of a loved one, it must run its course, but there are many things that are under our control which will contribute to the finality of this wave.
I really don’t know what the COVID-19 grief reconciliation wave will look like. Perhaps, it will mean we reconcile to what is (at least for now) and stop fighting it.
So take a deep breath (or two or three) and continue to shelter in place, physical distance while out for essential tasks, find healthy ways to cope, practice gratitude for what you do have in your life and BELIEVE in a better yet to come.
Irene Andrejczuk, ND is a clinical naturopath, Reiki Master, NLP practitioner, Kundalini Yoga practitioner, End of Life Doula, and owner and founder of Optimum Health Clinic, Montreal, Qc.
She provides counseling in the areas of PTSD, grief/loss, bereavement, depression, anxiety, adjustment to injury or illness and trauma. Irene is a frequent blogger on PTSD and grief. She continues to offer support during the pandemic through Skype, phone, or email. She is offering special “never seen before” promotions during COVID-19 and an additional discount to Essential Care Workers and First Responders.