Whenever we are confronted by a loss, we may experience a range of strong human emotions. This is grief.
When someone who has shared part of our life dies, whether a family member or a close friend, the emotions we feel can leave us desolate and confused. This is normal, it happens to everyone – and it’s quite alright to feel emotionally devastated. Grief is the natural response to a significant loss. We are often surprised at the complexity, strength and familiarity of our own reactions.
Grief affects us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Here are some of the most common reactions:
Shock – disbelief
Shock may be our first reaction to the news of the death of a loved one, and it is often with total disbelief if that death is sudden. Shock is the body’s way of coping with traumatic situations in life. It is a period that allows us time to gather our resources.
Emotional release – It’s alright to cry
The pain of the loss can be intense, and it is natural for that emotion to find release through crying. For various reasons, some people find it difficult to cry. Holding in our emotions indefinitely can make the recovery more difficult.
Loneliness – feeling low
Almost everyone feels this loneliness, a sense of complete separation from the person who is no longer alive. We feel really low in spirits and don’t know what to do or where to go to find relief. It is important to realise that this is normal. It’s alright to feel low and alone, even if we have plenty of family and friends around to support us.
Physical symptoms of distress
The pressures of coping with bereavement may sometimes cause our bodies to react in the form of headaches, backaches, asthma or some other illness, sometimes even reflecting the symptoms of the deceased.
A visit to the doctor may be wise, but often it is nature’s way of telling us to “take it easy for a while”. Be gentle with yourself, your heart, mind, and body will restore in their own time.
Pining – unable to cope with today
The friendship and pleasures which we shared with the deceased may pre-occupy us – nothing else seems to give us comfort. It is important to recognise our own capabilities and strengths, and keep connections with family and friends.
Many people fear that they may be going “crazy” with their grief, but knowing that this is a normal human reaction which is part of the recovery process will help us through this pain. Now is the time to reach out to other people – it’s not easy to do but it is important to keep trying.
Many people closely involved with a person who was ill for some time before death, can find themselves emotionally drained and physically exhausted. For many there is a feeling of relief that the deceased’s pain and suffering has finally ended. It’s alright to feel relieved.
Sense of guilt
When we have lost someone who was dear to us, many of us take on the blame for what has happened.
“But I only spoke to him yesterday!” “I could have tried to stop her driving that night!” “If only I had been there!” These are all typical reactions to the death and common thoughts.
It’s important to talk through any feelings of guilt you may feel. Talking can assist to gradually diminish these feelings.
Will to manage
Many of us can experience intense feelings towards the person who has died – “How could he leave me like this?”; towards the medical profession – “Why didn’t the doctors save her?”; and even for those who have a God, it may shake your faith.
It’s alright to feel angry and it is important not to suppress these feelings. Directing your anger it in a positive way is key. Where possible, sharing these feelings with a compassionate listener will help.
Inability to return to normal activities
Although by now we have been through the worst of the emotional upheaval, normal will become a new normal for you. We may become apathetic and lacking in energy, but this is usually temporary. Keep your family and friends close, it does help if we can share our memories with others by talking about the life and death of the deceased. If you have prolonged periods of apathy, talk to your GP. Gradually we can start picking up the threads and some of the activities we enjoyed before and try to re-establish a life that has some meaning. There is no time frame for this process of adjustment.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It may be helpful to talk to someone who has had training in the area of grief and who is able to assist in finding healthy approaches to grief. Special bereavement counsellors may be reached through AFDA funeral directors. Understanding clergy may also be of assistance.