We all experience bereavement and loss at some stage in our lives, often many times. This means that we all have to go through the grieving process but it is rare that we talk openly about it and so those who are grieving can find themselves quite isolated. This blog post looks at what we mean by grief and what can help us get through the process. Although we all experience grief differently, there are many feelings, the physical symptoms and behaviour changes that are common to us all. It’s an active thing – grief is done by a person, not something that happens to a person. It comes in waves, returning and receding as the memories come and go, a cycle of good days and bad days. There is no right way or wrong way to feel and no particular time frame in terms of going through it but having the right kind of support and understanding from those around us can make things a little easier.
What do we mean by grief?
Grief is defined as “deep mental anguish arising as a result of being bereaved or suffering loss.” It can take longer than we might think and the time it takes will be different for everyone. Some people appear to be coping really well for a time and then, a year later they enter the grieving process.
Grieving is a process of adjustment and adaptation. You can never go back to the ‘normal’ before the death and so perhaps have to create a new normal. Grief provides a path, albeit a broken one, by which those who grieve can find their way. It’s not an illness, it’s a necessity.
What kinds of feelings are involved in grief and grieving?
Grief is made up of a huge number of different emotions – we all experience it differently and how we each feel may well vary from moment to moment. It is important to understand that there is no “normal” way to grieve. Some of the feelings commonly experienced are:
• Sadness – we cry, we weep, at times we even howl with anguish – this is the most common way. Tears can have potential healing value by removing toxins and relieving emotional stress. It is not known how this works but it does, so don’t worry about crying.
• A need to withdraw – we often tend to want to withdraw from social occasions and people, at least for a while.
• Frustration – with everything – a sense of a lack of control – things have changed and we could do nothing to prevent this happening.
• Anger – even stronger than frustration, maybe similar to being a child again: “It’s not fair!” …..often blame/ hostility projected onto doctors, family, friends, God. There is never a good time for someone to die
• Feeling helpless – feeling unable to cope without the person
• Guilt – searching our conscience and memory for something that we might have done or not done that might have changed the outcome
• Anxiety – from the fear of not being able to cope or go on without the other person. With the death of someone we love, our own awareness of our own death intensifies – the world suddenly seems less safe than we had thought previously
• Loneliness – the need to be touched or held – the loss of that special someone who is there for you, who perhaps accepted you “warts and all”.
• Fatigue – Grief is exhausting – sleep can be disturbed, dreams can be vivid and upsetting
• Helplessness/ Numbness – wandering around not knowing what you were going to do. Not knowing if you are hot or cold. Not knowing whether you are hungry or what you might want to eat.
• Shock – we can experience shock whether the death expected or not – physical and emotional
• Yearning/Pining – wishing for the person who is gone.
• Relief – this can happen after long illness or a difficult relationship and can be difficult to verbalise due to fear that others might misjudge.
• Disbelief – this occurs especially in the early days – it must be a mistake, it CAN’T be true.
• Confusion/ poor concentration – we can forget things easily, even to the extent that we feel like we’re going mad
• Preoccupation – obsessed with thoughts of deceased
• Sense of presence – having the sense that the deceased is somehow still in the current area of time and space – while this can be a comfort, it can also cause confusion.
Physical symptoms of grief
We can experience hollowness in stomach, tightness in the chest or throat, an oversensitivity to noise, a sense that nothing is real, including ourself, emotional pain can be experienced physically.
Behaviour changes of grief
Some or all of the following:
• Sleep disturbances: try not to worry about lack of sleep at this stage, the body will take sufficient naps. Some people fear that they are sleeping ‘too much’ – it doesn’t matter, again the body is in shock and is trying to heal itself. For general information about how to get a good night’s sleep, click here.
• Change in eating – often a loss of appetite or in comfort eating or of just not being able to know what you want to eat.
• Avoiding reminders: you can find yourself driving different way home or can start avoiding people who might not know the death of the person has occurred. Things that were once a comfort because of association with loss can be too burdensome and sad.
• Doing too much – some people keep busy so as not to be able to think too much. Others experience no energy at all; everything draws from their energy levels.
What can help us when we are grieving?
Support is most important. It can be the support of friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. By simply being willing to sit and listen, to just be with the person, to go to the shops for them, to stop and ask how the person is without trying to ‘fix’ them. The griever is the expert on their grief, just acknowledge their loss and avoid minimising the loss –it is a hugely significant event in this person’s life. Grief can draw together the people who knew the deceased, bonded by the same emotion. Our traditions or religious rituals and beliefs can be of great support and give us hope.
It is reassuring that most people bereaved by the death of a loved one, will, in time, restart their life and find joy and hope in their new way of living. For a small amount of people, sometimes due to the manner of the death, for example sudden death or suicide, concurrent losses, the death of a child, the grief will be complicated and difficult and may lead to depression and anxiety. It is important to remember that this is not part of the normal grieving process and the person affected may need to seek out professional help in order to get on the road to recovery. For more information on depression, click here and for more information on anxiety, click here.
For more support and advice
If you have been affected by any aspect of grief or loss and would like to talk it over with someone who understands, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!