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Grief and Loss

A Guide to Grief

 

Grief is a normal response to loss. It can be the loss of a home, job, marriage or a love one.  Often the most painful loss is the death of a person you love, whether from a long illness or from an accident or an act of violence.

 

This guide will help you understand the grief you and others may feel after a death, whether sudden or anticipated.  We hope this guide will help you realize that these feelings are not unusual and things can get better.  You are not alone.

 

The Grieving Process

Grief is painful and at times the pain seems unbearable. It is a combination of many emotions that come and go, sometimes without warning.  Grieving is the period during which we actively experience these emotions.  How long and how difficult the grieving period is depends on the relationship with the person who dies, the circumstances of the death, and the situation of the survivors. The length of time people grieve can be weeks, months, an even years. One thing is certain; grief does not follow a timetable, but it does ease over time.

 

Because grief is so painful, some people try to “get over” a loss by denying the pain. Studies show that when people don’t deal with the emotions of grief, the pain does not go away.  It remains with them, and can turn up in unrecognizable and sometimes destructive ways. Understanding the emotions of grief and its feeling and symptoms are important steps in healing and in helping others who may be grieving.

 

The Feeling and Symptoms of Grief

Experts describe the process of grieving and the emotions of grief in various ways.  The most commonly described reactions are: Shock, Denial, Anger, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance, and Growth.  Some people experience the grieving process in this order.  Most often, a person feels several of these emotions at the same time, perhaps in different degrees.

 

Shock

If the death comes suddenly, as in an accident or murder, shock is often the first response people feel.  Even if the death is anticipated, there may be disbelief at its finality.  A person may be numb, or, like a robot, be able to go through the motions of life while actually feeling little.  At the same time, physical symptoms such as confusion and loss of appetite are common.

 

Denial

Shock and denial are nature’s way of softening the immediate blow of death.  Denial can follow soon after the initial shock.  People may know their loved one has died, but some part of them can’t yet accept the reality of the death.  It is not uncommon to fantasize that the deceased will walk through the door, as if nothing has happened. Some people leave bedrooms unchanged or make future plans as if the loved one will participate, just as in the past.

 

Anger

Anger is normal.  It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and causing a sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did not do enough, or at a murder that killed without remorse.  People of faith may feel anger at God, for allowing so much pain and anguish.  Anger may also be directed at oneself for not saving the life of the loved one.  It can be a mild feeling or a raging irrational emotion.  It can test one’s faith in religion or even in the goodness of life.

 

Few survivors escape some feelings of guilt and regret.  “I should have done more” are words that haunt many people.  Were angry words exchanged? Most people are very creative in finding reasons for guilt.  So many things could have been done differently “if only I had known.”

 

Sadness is the most inevitable emotion of grief.  It is normal to feel abandoned, alone and afraid. After the shock and denial have passed and the anger has been exhausted, sadness and even hopelessness may set in.  A person may have little energy to do even the simplest daily chores.  Crying episodes may seem endless.

 

Acceptance

Time alone will not heal grief. Acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain may free the survivor from a yearning to return to the past.  Accepting life without the lost loved one may give way to a new perspective about the future.  Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but rather using the memories to create a new life without the loved one.  Hoping for things to be as they were may be replaced by a search for new relationship and new activities.

 

Growth

Grief is a chance for personal growth.  For many people, it may eventually lead to renewed energy or invest in new activities and new relationships.  Some people seek meaning in their loss and get involved in causes or projects that help others.

 

Some people find a new compassion in themselves as a result of the pain they have suffered. They may become more sensitive to others, thus enabling richer relationships.  Others find new strength and independence they never knew they had. After the loss, they find new emotional resources that had not been apparent before.

 

Grieving people have two choices; they can avoid the pain and all the other emotions associated with their loss and continue on, hoping to forget.  This is a risky choice, since experience shows that grief, when ignored, continues to cause pain.

 

The other choice is to recognize grieving and seek healing and growth.  Getting over a loss is slow, hard work.  In order for growth to be possible, it is essential to allow oneself to feel all the emotions that arise, as painful as they may be, and to treat oneself with patience and kindness.


 

 

Feel the Pain

Give into it-even give it precedence over other emotions and activities, because grief is a pain that will get in the way later if it is ignored.  Realize that grief has no timetable; it is cyclical, so expect the emotions to come and go for weeks, months or even years. While a show of strength is admirable, it does not serve the need to express sadness, even when it comes out at unexpected times and places.

 

Talk About Your Sorrow

Take the time to seek comfort from friends who will listen. Let them know you need to talk about your loss.  People will understand, although they may not know how to respond.  If they change the subject, explain that you need to share your memories and express your sorrow.

 

Forgive Yourself

Forgive yourself for all the things you believe you should have said or done.  Also forgive yourself for the anger and guilt and embarrassment you may have felt while grieving.

 

Eat Well and Exercise

Grief is exhausting. To sustain our energy, be sure to maintain a balanced diet.  Exercise is also important in sustaining energy.  Find a routing that suits you – perhaps walks or bike rides with friends, or in solitude.  Clear your mind and refresh your body.

 

Indulge Yourself

Take naps, read a good book, listen to your favorite music, get a manicure, go to a ball game, rent a movie.  Do something that is frivolous, distracting and that you personally find comforting.

 

Prepare for Holidays and Anniversaries

Many people feel especially “blue” during these periods, and the anniversary date of the death can be especially painful.  Even if you think you’ve progressed, these dates may bring back some of your painful emotions.  Make arrangements to be with friends and family members with whom you are comfortable.  Plan activities that give you an opportunity to mark the anniversary.

 

Get Help

Bereavement groups can help you recognize your feelings and put them in perspective.  They can also help alleviate the feeling that you are alone.  The experiences of sharing with others who are in a similar situation can be comforting and reassuring.  Sometimes, new friendships grow through these groups – even a whole new social network that you did not have before.

 

There are specialized groups for widowed persons, for parents who have lost a child, for victims on drunken drivers, etc.  There are also groups that do not specialize.  Check with your local hospice or other bereavement support groups for more information.

 

If you find that you are in great distress or in long-term depression, individual or group therapy from a counselor who specializes in grief may be advisable.  You can ask your doctor for a referral.

 

Take Active Steps to Create a New Life for Yourself

Give yourself as much time to grieve as you need.  Once you find new energy, begin to look for interesting things to do.  Take courses, donate time to a cause you support, meet new people or even find a new job.

 

It is often tempting to try to replace the person who has been lost.  Whether through adoption, remarriage, or other means; this form of reconciliation often does not work.

 

Many people discover that there is hope after death. Death takes away, but grief can give back. It is possible to recover from grief with new strengths and a new direction.  By acting on our grief, we may eventually find peace and purpose.

 

Helping Those in Grief

You may know someone who has experienced a loss. Many of us feel awkward when someone dies, and don’t know what to do or say.  The suggestions below are designed to help you help friends, family and coworkers who are grieving.

 

Reach Out to the Grieving Person

Show your interest and share your caring feelings. Saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all.  At the same time, avoid clichés like “It was God’s will, “ or “God never gives us more that we can bear”, or “At least she isn’t suffering.”  Do not say you know how it feels. Do say you are sorry and that you are available to listen.  Be prepared for emotional feelings yourself.  A death generates questions and fears about our own mortality.

 

Listen

Your greatest gift to a grieving person can be your willingness to listen.  Ask about the deceased. Allowing the person to talk freely without fear of disapproval helps to create healthy memories.  It is an important part of healing.  While you can’t resolve the grief, listening can help.

 

Ask How You Can Help

Taking over a simple task at home or at work is not only helpful, it also offers reassurance that you care.  Be specific in your offer to do something and then follow up with action.

 

Remember Holidays and Anniversaries

These can be a very difficult time for those who are in grief.  Do not allow the person to be isolated.  Remember to share your home, yourself, or anything that may be of comfort.

 

Suggest Activities That You Can Do Together

Walking, biking or other exercises can be an opportunity to talk, and a good source of energy for a tired body and mind.

 

Help the Grieving Person Find New Activities and Friends

Include grieving persons in your life.  Grieving people may require some encouragement to get back into social situations.  Be persistent, but try not to press them to participate before they are ready.

 

 

Pay Attention to Danger Signs

Signs that the grieving person is in distress might include weight loss, substance abuse, depression, prolonged sleep disorders, physical problems, talk about suicide, and lack of personal hygiene.

 

Observing these signs may mean the grieving person needs professional help.  If you feel this is the case, a suggestion from you (if you feel close enough to the person), or from a trusted friend or family member may be appropriate.  You might also want to point out community resources that may be helpful.

 

Death can be a painful and permanent loss experience, and one of the hardest from which to recover. Death takes away, but facing it and grieving can result in peace, new strengths and purpose.

 

 “Tears are a sign of Weakness” and other myths about Grief

 

The death of a loved one can be the most intense lost you may ever encounter.  While loss and grief are emotionally painful, you can cope with them more realistically when you separate the facts from fiction about bereavement.

 

Grief is the feeling and emotions of loss.  It’s the pain inflicted on your mind and spirit when someone you love dies. One of the most common myths about grief is that being “brave” and “strong” prevents deep emotional suffering.

 

Myth:  It is better to be “brave” and “strong” to avoid having so much emotional pain.  Fact: Avoidance simply postpones emotional pain.

 

Myths about grief abound, stifling your ability to grieve in healthy ways.  Simply knowing the facts can make a great difference in the way you mourn and the way you support others in their bereavement.

 

   Common Myths about Grief

 

Myth:  Grief paralyzes you indefinitely. Fact: When you take time to feel grief, it eventually goes away.  The only way out of it is through it.

 

Myth:  Tears are a sign of weakness.  Fact: Tears help wash away intense feelings. They are healthy way to move through grief.  Of course, some people can’t cry because tears are unnatural for them.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t deeply feel the loss.

 

Myth:  You never really finish grieving if you truly loved someone.  Fact: True love is supported by the love itself, not the grief.  You will always have the memories of your relationship, and you can keep the loved one’s memory alive in healthy ways.

 

Myth: Grief is never finished:  Fact:  It’s finished when you grieve in a healthy way.  Unfinished grief that surfaces years later is crying out for completion.

 

Myth: Self neglect is a part of grief.  Fact:  Self-neglect could be a sign of clinical depression.  Your loved one would want you to take good care of yourself.

 

Myth:  Grief ends in three months (or some other time frame).  Fact:  Grief is a process, not an event.  It cannot be avoided or rushed. The grief process takes as long as you need it to take. So, be patient and tolerant with yourself, and avoid those who are impatient or intolerant with you.

 

Myth:  Only the sick have physical problems in grief. Fact:  rushing through or trying to avoid grief can lead to chronic headaches, gastrointestinal ailments, sleep disorders, and other physical problems.

 

Myth: All bereaved people grieve the same way.  Fact:  No one else will grieve exactly the same way you do.  Cultures, values, beliefs, personalities, and relationships all determine how you grieve.

 

Myth:  You will be the same after the death as you were before your loved one died.  Fact:  the death of someone you love changes your life forever. The transformation often results in tremendous emotional and spiritual growth.

 

Myth:  Your relationship with loved ones ends after their death.  Fact:  Death ends a life, not a relationship.  Memories are one of the vest legacies that exist after the death of someone you loved.  Find creative ways to embrace them.

 

Myth:  Grief always steadily declines over time.  Fact:  Initially, grief may seesaw between an emotionally sharp intensity and a dull aching.    Over time and with the completion of grief work, the emotional distress subsides.

 

Myth:  Time alone will heal your emotional pain.  Fact:  Time helps, but healing also involves “grief work.”  This work requires expressing your feelings and emotions, talking about your loss accepting the death, and learning to live again.

 

Myth:  When grief is resolved, it never comes up again.  Fact:  You may be sadly reminded again of the loss on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or other significant dates.  Take extra special care of yourself during these times.

 

Myth: You shouldn’t think of your loved one on holidays or anniversaries because it will make you feel sad.  Fact:  It’s okay to feel sad and it’s okay to feel good. Allow the memories of your loved one to be with you in a gentle, tender way. Buy a living plant or a special candle to burn as a memorial to the love you once shared. Or, in their memory, donate to a charity the amount of money you would have spent on gifts.

 

Myth:  Expressing intense feelings is a sign of losing control.  Fact:  Tears, confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey.  There is no such thing as a” wrong” feeling or emotion.  Accept them all, and find others who will do the same.