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Phoenix Forward

The secret to dealing with grief

Old hands hold a picture of a lost loved one

Ted Paciotti remembers his father’s death in May 2008 like it was yesterday.

“He died at 11 a.m.,” he says of his dad, Theodore, who was 84, following a 14-month-battle with lung cancer. “It’s still difficult to deal with. I was close to him.”

Paciotti, 44, of Chisholm, Minn., says he handled his grief by going to movies, working on his hobby and spending time with friends. He felt regret, remorse and separation anxiety. “Holidays were the toughest,” he says.

Grief comes in many forms, and each person handles it differently. According to noted grief experts, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial helps people survive the loss, during a time when life makes no sense. Anger helps a person heal and express their feelings. Bargaining can happen before a loss (“What if I had spent more time with my husband?”) or after, as people try to do things to help alleviate the pain (such as helping others). This is often followed be depression, as grief enters a person’s life on a deeper level. Finally, after some time, people have acceptance, whereby they reconcile their loss and accept it as a permanent reality.

People can grieve for many things, including the death of a loved one, death of a pet, ending of a job, divorce and other losses. And various cultures — and men and women — handle grief differently.

“I know several people who got up the next day and went to work as if things were normal,” says Gwynne McGraw, a licensed professional counselor and psychology instructor at University of Phoenix in Kansas City, Mo.

The longer they are gone, the more it stays home that they are not coming back.

Brian Garavaglia, a former long-term care administrator, gerontologist and therapist who now teaches psychology and sociology at University of Phoenix in Detroit, says people who have suffered some sort of loss can never resolve the issue, but instead can only reconcile and come to the reality that the person or job or pet is no longer there. “That doesn’t mean we have a total closure or resolution,” he says. “The good news is that most people do not go into serious, depressive episodes.”

Women tend to handle things better than men as they have formed intimate attachments throughout their lives and have been taught that it is healthy to express emotions. Males over the age of 80, who are generally more stoic and reserved, have the highest rate of suicide, Garavaglia says. White men over 80 are six times more likely to commit suicide than any other group.

McGraw says there are numerous things one can do to help with the grieving process: Eat right; avoid alcohol; talk with friends; exercise; turn to one’s religion; and if necessary, seek out a therapist or support group.

Paciotti advises people who are grieving to connect with others who mean the most to them and do whatever is therapeutic. Occasionally, he has a painful reoccurrence of his father’s death. “The longer they are gone, the more it stays home that they are not coming back,” he says.

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