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The experience of loss is a universal condition of humanity, but glbtq individuals may face particular challenges in finding support to help them in their grieving process.

Grief is a natural reaction to a loss. A loss may take many forms and can severely disrupt a person's ability to function in many areas, provoking as it does mental, emotional, and physical reactions as the entire body responds to the loss.

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Feelings of sadness, shock, anger, guilt, depression, and despair often wash over the person who has experienced loss. The mind becomes preoccupied with questions of "what if," trying to understand every detail of the event or blaming oneself or others in an attempt to understand the loss. The body reacts with disruptions in sleep, appetite, general discomfort, and agitation.

After the initial blow subsides, the mind and body begin to heal. The healing process is slow and gradual with many ups and downs. With support from family, friends, or a professional caregiver, the process can eventually lead to restoration. A new sense of hope and purpose can emerge. After a loss, the present and future are altered forever, though a new and promising reality can emerge.

When a loss occurs, we may have many reactions. We may ask, "Why has this happened to me?" as we try to make sense out of an event that seems to defy rationality. We may become preoccupied with the past and ask, "Why can't things go back to the way they were?" as we hold on to our idealized memories.

We may also try to avoid experiencing the loss and say, "I need to get my life back in order and I'll be okay." In this way, we hurriedly seek to replace the things we lost, which actually prevents our healing. These reactions are normal responses to an event over which we have no control.

Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was one of the first to chronicle her observations of the grieving process. She identified a natural progression of denial or shock, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The initial reaction of denial is associated with the shock felt when the loss first occurs. The mind does not want to accept the loss and reacts against it. The second stage is anger at the loss, though there is often no object to direct the anger towards. Resolving the anger may be crucial to moving on in healing, though this may be a very difficult step.

The next stage is bargaining, when the feeling of helplessness leads to negotiations. The belief that control can be regained if promises are made is a natural response. These promises can be a very positive part of the healing process and are not necessarily senseless. For example, a person who has lost a child may promise to take better care of his or her other children or may promise to volunteer to help children.

The next stage is depression, when the full experience of the loss is felt. The sense of helplessness and loss of control overwhelm the individual, and depression often results. This stage can be one of healing or can lead to self-destructive behaviors as we seek to cope. Though this stage may occur long after the loss, it is the most crucial time to seek professional help.

The last stage is acceptance, when the past is resolved and a new future opens up. Hope, optimism, and a new reality are the outcomes of this acceptance. Hope is more important than any other belief in coping with a loss.

These stages do not always occur in an exact sequence, and individuals may cycle back and forth between stages. Awareness of the stages of grief may help one gauge how he or she is coping with loss.

Grief for GLBTQ Individuals

One of the most difficult losses is the death of a partner. Heterosexual individuals have marriages that are highly visible, and they receive a great deal of support from family and friends when a spouse dies. For many glbtq individuals, however, the loss of a partner can leave them with little or no support. The lack of societal recognition for same-sex partners can result in the survivor's isolation and withdrawal.

Due to prejudices, the death of a same-sex partner is often not acknowledged at all or sometimes only minimally. During an illness of a partner, many glbtq individuals may actually be denied permission to stay with their partner in the hospital or medical facility. Family members of the dying partner may seek to keep the individual from being present and may even seize assets and assume responsibility for medical decisions.

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