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Early Stages of Grief: The First Seven Days

by Deb Sims, MS,RNCS,LCSW

When my father died, I was told about his death by the minister and my seventh grade teacher. I was 12, and the words they used were so obscure that I didn't know they were telling me he was dead. It was the boy who sat in front of me who told me. They sent me back into class to get my books. As I did, he turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry your Dad died?" That was the end of my life, as I knew it.

The rest is a blur with only vague memories. I remember bits and pieces of the viewing, none of the funeral, and some remarks that people made.

My experience is not unique. I heard the news and couldn't even process it. I was a child and hearing words like "passed away" had no meaning for me. It made me realize that when death occurs, few of us know what to do.

Hearing the news for the first time. If you have just heard the news of the death of your loved one, then know that you are most likely in a state of shock. It is as if a hazy confusion has set in. We have a built in protective system to handle pain that is too great to bear. On one hand, we realize what is happening but, on the other hand, a part of us goes numb. Those early days are a blur. For at least the first seven days after the transition of someone we love, there is little that we remember later.

There is no right or wrong way to react to the news. Some people will sob almost hysterically, others will be overly calm, another may be chosen to fill the role of organizer, and still another may become angry with God. Whatever the reaction to traumatic news like this, it is normal. Just because you don't fall apart doesn't mean you cared any less. If you are crying, it doesn't mean you are weak. Tears have a wonderful cleansing effect and in the long run are healthy. But some people go into autopilot and organize and help the others, then break down later. Many people find they are comforted by their spiritual beliefs. Others want nothing to do with God or spiritual comfort at that time. There isn't a right or wrong for this; each person's reaction will be different. Grief is grief and for each of us ours is the worst there is.

When to get help As a general rule, if you haven't let the grief out after three months, you should probably seek counseling. By letting it out, we don't mean that you will be over it. Rather, the process of expressing it needs to begin. You will question constantly if what you are feeling is normal.


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