Coping with grief
Grief is the name given to the feelings often experienced following a personal loss of any kind and it is perfectly natural. One of the most common and debilitating types of grief occurs after the death of someone close.
Grieving is important as, eventually, it allows you to adjust to your loss. During the process of coping with grief you may experience a range of symptoms, some of which include:
- Lack of energy, fatigue
- Headaches and upset stomach
- Excessive sleeping or the drive to overwork or be excessively active
- Memory lapses, distraction, and preoccupation
- Depression or feelings of euphoria
- Extreme anger or a deep resignation to the situation
- Feelings of being closer to their faith or feelings of anger and outrage at their faith.
Often the best thing is to express your grief, and this need can be met in different ways, depending on the person, culture and circumstances involved.
It is important to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness or poor coping skills. Rather grief is a healthy and normal part of the healing process to a major life change.
You will change. Your routine will change. Your moods will change. All of this is really about adapting to the loss and changes in your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future.
It is important to remember that everyone deals with grief differently. Even members of the same family will show grief in different ways and might begin to recover from grief at different times. Understanding that grief is a personal experience can help you to understand your own actions and emotions and those of others.
Yes, the death of a loved one is a traumatic event and can trigger many emotions, even many at the same time.
Common reactions to grief are:
- Crying (I can’t cry or will I ever stop crying)
- Anger (It’s not fair)
- Relief (I’m glad the suffering is over)
- Shock (I can’t take it in)
- Numbness (My body seems to be on ‘auto pilot’)
- Guilt (If only I could turn the clock back)
- Frustration (Why don’t people understand me)
- Panic (How will I cope)
- Depression (I don’t care anymore)
- Fear (What if I can’t cope)
- Low Energy (I’m too tired)
- Confusion (I can’t think straight)
- Rejection (How could they do this to me)
- Emptiness (I feel like something is always missing).
The main way to manage grief is to let these feelings come and to give yourself time to change to your new circumstances.
Grief lasts as long as it lasts. There is no definitive answer because each person is different. It could take months, a few years or even longer. Someone very special to you has gone and that reality will always remain with you, and it hurts. The loss will always be part of your life but the intense pain will gradually subside.
Grief can come in waves and can be unexpected. It can be triggered by little things like hearing a song, seeing a photo, or smelling a fragrance that reminds you of that person, so remember to give yourself permission for this to happen.
Gradually these waves of grief will grow further and further apart. Eventually you will be able to laugh again and remember the life of, and good times with your loved one rather than just their death.
With support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.
Grief is not a sign of weakness or poor coping skills, it is a normal and healthy part of the healing process. It might seem impossible to you now, but most people eventually deal with their loss. You can do it too.
This does not mean that your grief will be ‘cured’ or that you should forget the person who has died. Even in years to come there might be occasions when you will still feel sad.
It is best not to put a time frame on the whole experience of grief. This creates unrealistic expectations and doesn’t allow for individual differences. You need to deal with your grief and face any changes in your life. To do that you may need to:
- Talk about it (it will help let it sink in)
- Look after yourself (eat, drink, sleep, get fresh air and try to avoid alcohol and sedatives)
- Ask for help (don’t think you have to cope on your own)
- Understand your friends (friends can be impatient so tell them what you feel and share your grief)
- Be aware of advice givers (don’t allow people to entice you into replacing or avoiding your grief - e.g. going on holidays or buying a car)
- Be prepared for ups and downs (memories sparked by birthdays, anniversaries etc can bring you down. You need to find a way to remember the person that brings you comfort- e.g. visiting the cemetery).
Accept loss as a part of life. When you love someone, you must also be willing to let them go when their life ends.
Loss can come into our lives in lots of ways, and it affects each of us differently. One of the biggest and most difficult losses comes due to the death of someone really important to you.
When a person experiences the loss of someone they love, they are forced to deal with grief but unfortunately, most of us are unprepared for how to handle it, especially if we have never had to deal with grief before.
You may feel a whirlwind of emotions, from intense grief and loss to relief and calmness. You may have jumbled thoughts, feel numb and have difficulty making decisions.
In your own time and in your own way you need to deal with your grief and face the changes to your life. Some things you can do to help that process includes:
Accept how you feel – understand that what you are feeling is natural – it will help it sink in. Let yourself cry, talk about the loss, or have a laugh. Let yourself feel what you are feeling. The feeling will pass eventually.
Accept loss as a part of life – loving someone includes a willingness to let them go when their life ends.
Be kind to yourself – eat, drink, sleep, get fresh air and try to avoid alcohol and sedatives. Do things you like doing. Treat yourself to things that make you happy.
Talk about your feelings – don’t think you have to cope on your own. Talk to someone you trust. Support from family and friends is important when someone has died or you may prefer to seek grief counselling which can be very effective in coping with grief and loss.
Take each step at a time – live each day as it comes. Understand and accept disruption in your life. Take control of things you can. Understand there are things you have little or no control over. Give yourself permission to grieve.
Explore your spirituality – pray, meditate or spend some time with nature. Use your own personal spirituality to explore what death or loss means to you and your spiritual self.
Change – your routine will change and you will change. You need to accept that is part of the process and when you feel right – start something new. Don't feel guilty about this, it is part of healing.
Be prepared for ups and downs – birthdays, anniversaries or a particular smell can ignite memories that can upset you or bring you down. You need to find a way to remember the person that brings you comfort, like visiting their memorial or writing a poem.
Few events in life are as painful as the death of your spouse. You may be uncertain you will survive this overwhelming loss. At times, you may be uncertain you even have the energy or desire to try to heal.
You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, overwhelming and sometimes lonely. This was your companion, the person you shared your life with.
Your grief is unique because no one else had the same relationship you had with your spouse. Your experience will also be influenced by the circumstances surrounding the death, other losses you have experienced, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.
As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don't try to compare your experience with that of others or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. The best thing to do is take it one day at a time and grieve at your own pace.
No matter how old or young you are, losing a parent changes everything. Whether your parent dies when you are still in childhood, during teenage years or even if you are 65, you can still experience strong feelings of grief and loss. Even when the death is expected through old age or chronic illness, it can have a tremendous emotional impact.
A parent dying may bring up all kinds of feelings and emotions such as sadness, relief, anger, and guilt, depending on the type of relationship you had with them. If you were close to them and are used to consulting with them before making major decisions, you will miss being able to ask them for advice. If your relationship with your parents was difficult, once they have passed away so has our chance to repair the relationship.
The loss of a parent, even after a long and full life, has a tremendous emotional impact, and healing can take place only when you allow yourself to confront your feelings and allow yourself time to grieve.
No parent is ever prepared to experience the loss of a child. Everything that has been hoped for dreamed about and worked for up to that moment just ends. It is heartbreak like no other.
No matter how one loses a child, whether by prolonged illness or sudden death, the loss of a child is perhaps the most profound, the most overwhelming, and the most inconsolable of all losses to deal with.
After a child dies, the caring role ends and life will never be the same. It has been described as being more intense than grief experienced than any other type of loss. It is a period of great change and conflicting emotions.
People experience a wide range of emotions after the loss of a child such as guilt, disbelief, or anger, which can manifest into the inability to eat or sleep or a whole range of emotional and physical symptoms. Grief, regardless of how it manifests, is a unique personal experience for the parent and for the rest of the family.
Children show us new ways to love, new things to find joy in, and new ways look to at the world. The memories of joyful moments you spent with your child and the love you shared will live on and always be a part of you.
The death of a colleague can be a painful experience under any circumstances, and is all the more difficult if it is unexpected.
You probably have spent many hours with this person, and consider them to be not just a co-worker, but also a friend. People who work together can become like extended family, and when they suffer a loss, friends and co-workers can also grieve.
Grief can leave everyone feeling a mix of emotions such as shock, anger, denial, guilt and sadness. It can cause disorganisation, negativity or apathy at work. How it is managed will make a big difference to the grieving process. It can also touch on your own fears about death or ignite grief from a personal experience.
Everyone's individual timetable for grieving is different but it may help to discuss your feelings with other work colleagues, talk about the deceased and even hold a memorial service at work. Do whatever helps you and supports others through the grieving process.
Facing a sudden loss can be confusing and disorienting as it is often a loss that does not make sense. A sudden death can leave us feeling shaken, unsure and vulnerable.
The grief response following sudden loss is often intensified since there is little to no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say good-bye, finish unfinished business or prepare for bereavement. Families and friends are suddenly forced to face the loss of a loved one instantaneously and without warning.
The shock and trauma experienced with this type of loss can be devastating and will leave friends and family experiencing emotions such as shock, disbelief, anger, fear, anxiety, hopelessness and deep sadness. It can also manifest many physical symptoms such as nausea, sleeplessness, anxiety and disorientation.
Support from friends, family, co-workers and even perhaps a therapist can ease your stress and guide you in safe expressions of your grief.
Infant death is one of the most devastating experiences any parent could face. Nothing can take away the pain or fill the infants place in your heart.
Parents often retain strong feelings of guilt and sometimes a sense of responsibility for what happened even though they've been told there was nothing they could have done to prevent the death.
Acknowledging your baby's death - as well as your lost hopes and dreams for the baby's future - is an important part of the grieving process. It's often comforting and therapeutic to share your grief and feelings with others who have had similar losses.
Whatever the circumstances of your baby's death, you will need to share your grief outside of yourself. Whether you were pregnant for a brief time or many months, delivered a stillborn baby or your baby lived for a longer time, you have every right to grieve.
The death of your baby may have come suddenly, without any warning. You have been given little, if any, preparation for this experience. You will grieve in your own special way.
Try not to adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just try and take it one day at a time.
Don't be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. This is a natural response to the death of your baby. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.
All grief is personal and you should be able to deal with grief in the way that is most helpful to you, but the same is true for other people who also miss your loved one, even if they are from a culture that deals with grief in a different way.
Each culture has its own different mourning ceremonies, traditions, and behaviours to express grief. For example, some peoples’ belief in a life or existence after death helps them deal with the pain of the loss while others believe they will be born again to a better life. In some cultures, the spirit of a deceased loved one directly influences the living, and bereaved family members may be comforted by knowing that their loved one is watching over them.
By respecting your own process for dealing with grief and those of any other people affected by this loss gives you the best chance of being able to share your memories and feelings with these people in the years ahead.
It can be very hard to know just what to say to someone who’s grieving. Some people are so unsure of what to say they avoid the funeral and their friend all together, leaving the person who is suffering from grief confused by the fact that their friend seems to have abandoned them.
However, a good friend will always reach out to those in need. The best thing you can to do is to allow the person to cry and show their real feelings. Talk about the person who has died and listen to the circumstances of the death.
The most loving thing you can do for your friend is just be there with them and for them. The simple act of being there is tremendous comfort to the grieving person. There are no magic words to heal the pain. Listening to someone talk about how much they miss their loved one or listening to a story about the deceased is often what is needed. Allowing that person to get out what they have been keeping inside is a special gift.
It’s best not to say things like “be brave” or “be strong” – this encourages grieving people to bottle up their feelings. And avoid saying things like “I know how you feel” – you can never really feel another’s inner feelings, or fully know all the things that are part of someone else’s grief.
Offer practical help such as buying groceries or cooking meals. Do this not just in the days straight after the death but in the months to come when the real effect of the death is often being felt.
Be a loving, gentle, patient friend and that in-itself will go a long way.
Yes, you should express your grief openly. By sharing your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won't make it go away and talking about it can generally help to make you feel better.
Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn't mean you are losing control, or going "crazy". It is a normal part of your grief journey. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging.
Avoid people who are critical or who try to steal your grief from you. They may tell you, "keep your chin up" or "carry on" or "be happy." These comments may be well intended but you do not have to accept them.
You have a right to express your grief and no one has the right to take it away.
Suicide occurs when an individual’s physical or mental suffering is so severe and that they believe there is no hope for it to go away. Suicide is perceived as a way to end the suffering.
A loss due to suicide can be among the most difficult losses to bear. It can leave family and friends with a tremendous number of unanswered questions and they sometimes feel partly responsible for the death and this can be very hurtful. If you are going through feelings like this in the first few weeks after a suicide then counselling may be beneficial.
People usually attempt suicide to block out their own unbearable emotional or physical pain, which can be due to a wide variety of factors. When a person commits suicide they are often so distressed that they cannot see that they have other options and do not think of anyone they can turn to.
The most important thing to remember is that very often the signs of distress and helplessness in a person thinking about suicide are not always obvious and no one is to blame for the suicide.
Like adults, children will react to the news of death individually, perhaps with unexpected responses. The child may say, “it’s not true” or lash out physically or verbally. Wanting to be left alone or being curious and full of questions may be more common for some children than sadness.
When helping children deal with their grief, it is probably most important to remember these three simple rules:
- Be honest in what you say.
- Be open with your own emotions.
- Always be patient.
Children deserve clear and honest answers to their questions, especially the difficult ones. They also deserve the adults around them to be open with them concerning their own grief.
Often cuddles, hugs and some quiet time together will satisfy a child who is feeling frightened or unsure about the changes happening in the family but children require as much time to adjust to grief as adults do.
Adults should not hide their own tears from children of any age - your grief will show them that they need not be ashamed or scared to express their own. If children aren’t given good role models in coping with grief then they may learn unhelpful ways of coping with grief such as masking their true feelings or believing that they must bear their hurt, confusion, questions, anger or fear silently.
What are the warning signs that my teenager is having serious problems dealing with grief? Expand / minimise
Teenagers can be particularly affected when a school friend or family member dies because their grief can become complicated by the usual ups and downs of adolescence. Their need to appear ‘grown up’ in front of their peers, or their family, can result in isolation and difficulty in asking for help or expressing feelings.
Teenagers experiencing grief and loss may show one or more of these signs:
- An extended period of depression where the teen loses interest in daily activities and events
- They cannot sleep or lose their appetite
- They have a fear of being alone
- They act much younger than their age for an extended period
- They excessively imitate the dead person
- They say often that they want to join the dead person
- They withdraw from friends
- Their school performance drops or they refuse to attend school
- A lack of concentration
- They are over-active or act too busy
- Drug and/or alcohol use
- Risk-taking behaviour
- Self-destructive, antisocial, or criminal behaviour
- Suicidal thoughts.
If these signs are obvious then it may be a good idea to seek professional help.
Grief support groups can be very helpful. Many times when you are in the middle of your grief, you may feel that the world has moved on. Support groups provide you with a safe place to talk about your loss and experience your feelings with others who are also experiencing similar feelings.
Purslowe's experienced funeral directors can help you find a grief and loss support group in your local community that is highly recommended.
Anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and holidays can be difficult times. It may be useful to plan ahead. You may decide to do things differently and create new traditions on these days. You may want to find new ways to remember the person who has died. For example, lighting a candle in memory of your loved one during the holiday or on their birthday can be a way to remember the life of the deceased.
A permanent memorial is very important to coping with grief.
For example, when a loved one is buried there is a place where loved ones can always visit, any time they want, and they can be with their thoughts for the person they are missing. This can be very important at times of the year like Mother's or Father's Day, at Christmas and at anniversaries.
Places holding permanent memorials are also places where people feel they have permission to express their emotions of loss, sadness and even anger. It can be very helpful for people dealing with grief to have a place like this.
When someone is cremated, families often choose to scatter the ashes at a place that was significant to their loved one: the garden in the family home, for example. However, people can lose touch with locations such as this when the family home is sold, or when the land use rules for a favoured location, like a park or golf course, are changed.
Many families now choose to create a permanent memorial for their cremated loved one, as well as taking a portion of the ashes to scatter at a place of significance. This gives the family all the benefits of having a permanent place to visit, as well as honouring the wishes of their loved one to have their ashes scattered somewhere close to their heart.