Loss & Grief:
Losing a loved one is something that many of us fear and is among the most stressful events you will experience. It may feel like you are going crazy but remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel and it is natural to experience lots of different emotions.
Grief is the normal response to the loss of someone or something important to you. It is the emotions you feel as you cope and learn to live with this loss. You may experience grief due to a death, a divorce or a job loss. Grief can be difficult but it is not an illness. It’s part of normal human experience, and the natural cycle of life.
What does grief feel like?
Everyone grieves differently. Grief is one of the most personal experiences you will go through, and people from different cultural backgrounds may have very different customs and practices.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no stages of grief that you must go through. Grief is personal, and the feelings, thoughts, behaviors that effect you are yours alone and very personal. Nevertheless, there may be some similarities in experience that you may find helpful.
Following a death or loss, you may feel empty or numb, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating.
After the initial shock starts to wear off you may begin to feel things again. You may feel sadness, anger, guilt, loneliness, bitterness, fear, and nervousness. This is a painful time, but a normal part of grieving. Most people will find that with time, they adapt but it can take weeks, months or even years to adjust to the loss.
Eventually you will begin to focus on daily tasks again. You do not need to feel guilty about this! It is healthy for your life to move forward. And your relationship with your lost loved one is never completely forgotten. It is normal to continue to feel strong feelings of loss from time to time. Humans are capable of more then one feeling at a time. You can get on with enjoying your life while still being sad and grieving your loss. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Grieving is not a weakness; it is necessary. We need time to understand that the loss has actually occurred, to deal with the emotions that follow and to balance moving our lives forward again. Refusing to grieve may at times be temporarily protective but hopefully you feel permission to experience and express your feelings in whatever way feels right for you.
Grief can challenge your assumptions about the world, and it may take time to find meaning and purpose in life again. Loss can be a stimulus and, for some, a gift to finding new meaning and purpose to your life and future.
How to cope with your own grief:
Stay connected with other people. Spend time with family, friends, community, and if needed perhaps members of a self-help group, who have been through the experience of loss and grief.
- Take enough time. Everyone reacts differently to a loss. It will probably take longer than you expect and at times catch you off guard.
- Acknowledge your emotions. Let yourself feel sadness, anger and other feelings.
- Give yourself permission to choose where, when and with whom to express your feelings. It’s allowed and part of a healthy grief experience.
- Recognize that you may be less attentive to your work and personal relationships for some time.
- Reach out for help. Don’t always rely on others to make the first move; they may be concerned about allowing you your privacy.
Take care of your physical health. Be sure to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Speak with your doctor if you feel your grief is affecting your health.
- Return to interests and activities you may have stopped doing.
- Be thoughtful about major life changes. Consider waiting before making big decisions, such as moving, remarrying or having another child.
Sometimes our grief becomes too much for us to handle on our own. In such cases, speaking to a professional may help to re-establish a normal or healthy grief process. Some signs that you may benefit from speaking to a care provider include:
- Extreme avoidance or downplaying of the process of mourning (quickly returning to normal life, keep extra busy, not dealing with the emotions)
- Feeling stuck in the extreme feelings (overwhelmed by constant anger, sadness or guilt)
- Relying on drugs or alcohol to help you cope
- Finding yourself unable to function in various parts of your life
- Developing symptoms of a clinical depression, constant sadness, and lack of interest
- Thoughts or plans of ending your life/suicide to join your loved one or ease the pain. Seek emergency help if suicidal.
How to help a friend who is grieving
It can be difficult to watch a friend grieve. You may feel guilty and helpless, or feel there is little you can do to comfort your friend. This is a natural feeling. But there are some ways that you can help.
- Consider offering to provide meals and assist with funeral details, and other tasks that follow death
- Accept your friend’s need to tell repeated stories about the life and death of their loved one, and recognize your healthy limits and availability to listen
- Encourage involvement in social activities, special interest groups, and hobbies
- If reactions are extreme, encourage professional help and provide the support necessary to assist your friend to take this step
For further information about grief contact a community organization or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.
To be advised at a later date