Grief is the natural response we get when we lose a loved one, someone we cared for and someone who meant something to us. At some point in our lives all of us will know what it is like to grieve, to have that emotional feeling which is so intense it can almost feel like a physical pain within us. There is no wrong or right way for anyone to grieve, it is something very personal and unique to each individual. This article highlights some of the stages of grief which we could experience and ways in which we can help ourselves through that grief.
The shock of losing someone we love
When we lose someone close to us it is often the shock which hits us first which can be so overwhelming it can leave us totally floored, not being able to function or even comprehend what has happened. Some people feel totally numb and in denial about what has happened and expecting their loved one to walk through the door at any time. However, shock can affect people in different ways and some will continue going through the motions and keeping busy. It may only be some time later, perhaps after the funeral and all the arrangements have been taken care of, that the shock can set in.
Feeling of anger when someone passes away
Anger is a very common emotion that could be directed at the person who has died as we feel angry they have left us on our own. We could also experience a lot of anger towards doctors and hospitals, especially if we were not happy with how our loved one was treated.
We often feel guilty when we lose someone we love
Guilt is a very powerful emotion that is often experienced when we lose someone we love. We may feel guilty they died and not us, which may be particularly relevant in the case of when a child dies and a parent may find it difficult to accept they continue living while their child has died. This can also happen in traumatic events and disasters when people can experience guilt they are alive when others have lost their lives. Some may feel relieved when a loved one has died and this is particularly relevant in the case where a loved one has been suffering in immense pain for some time and the relief is that their suffering has come to an end and they are now at peace. However, it can bring feelings of guilt for feeling that way.
In cases where a loved one has sadly taken their own life there can be enormous feelings of guilt and constant churning thoughts as to whether something could have been done or said which may have prevented the suicide.
Grief can bring about depression, anxiety about the future, worries about how one can cope without their loved one in their life. People can become socially isolated, lose their confidence, they may feel they have no sense of purpose or role, very relevant in cases where someone has been a carer for their loved one, and all these feelings can add to depression and feeling very lost and alone in the world. Some may feel they lose interest in their normal day to day activities, experience mood swings, they may feel they hear the voice of their loved one, see their loved one or feel their presence around them and all these feelings and emotions are perfectly normal to have.
Feelings of isolation is common
Feelings of isolation can be added by the fact that others often do not know what to say to someone who has been bereaved and therefore will avoid them, not because they do not care but because they feel they may say the wrong thing, they don’t know whether to mention the person who has died in case it causes upset, and so often they may keep away. People who have been bereaved often say that immediately after a death and making arrangements for the funeral they feel there are people around, but after the funeral is when feelings of isolation often set in and that is the time they need their friends around them the most.
There does come a time where we find acceptance of our loved one’s death. Where we can accept we will no longer see them, and that our life will be different. When we move forward with our lives that does not mean forgetting the loved one but accepting that our life continues without them and that is what our loved one would want for us. We learn to adjust, we accept that our life will be different, there will be changes and we will always have that loss, but that does not mean we cannot find life meaningful or find happiness again.
Taking care of ourselves when we’re grieving is important
So how can we help ourselves through the grieving process? One of the most important things we can do is to express our feelings and emotions rather than bottle them up inside. That could be speaking to a friend or a relative or even writing down how you feel, anything to get the feelings out. Some people feel they have to keep a stiff upper lip and maybe not wishing to cry in front of others, but crying is a perfectly natural reaction to have and a good way to prevent emotions building up inside. When emotions are not allowed to come out, it can make the grieving process more difficult.
When a death is unexpected or sudden, we may feel there were things we would have wanted to say but didn’t. A good way of addressing this is to write a letter as if we were writing to our loved one and to read the letter as many times as we need to before we feel we can let the letter go. As a symbol of letting go, destroy the letter knowing we are now at peace that we have said all that we wanted to say.
Grief can also be very draining physically and can leave us feeling very fatigued. It can be an effort to look after ourselves, but it is so important physically to be as strong and healthy as we can. This will make it easier to cope with so many fluctuating emotions and feelings going on inside. Try and eat healthily and not skip meals, get plenty of sleep, fresh air, exercise and rest.
Often, people around us will not know what to say or how to be so we need to try and let others know what will help us. Some may tell us not to talk about a loved one as we will get upset but let them know it helps to talk about the person you have lost, and you are alright with them talking about the person too. You may feel you want someone there with you for company or just to go out with for a coffee or someone just to be there to listen while you talk. Don’t be afraid to let people know how they can help you.
A great comfort can be looking at photos of a loved one and making a memory box of their belongings which could include clothing, photos, ornaments and possessions which meant something to them. A memory jar is also be something to consider. Memories which are happy, funny, that make you smile, are put on pieces of paper and into a large jar that can be taken out and read any time. Visiting places a loved one used to go is another way of feeling that closeness and bringing some form of comfort for yourself.
Planning in advance what to do on special days, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, can be a good idea as you may feel you want company, or to visit a special place or their grave or garden of remembrance. Special occasions are always going to be hard to cope with but it does get easier with time as you learn to cope with the loss.
For those who feel they have no purpose it may be a good opportunity to try new hobbies, learn a language, consider volunteering in the local community. We all need to feel a sense of purpose and have direction in life and setting ourselves new goals and challenges can help us to find that sense of fulfilment and purpose.
Grief can take such a toll on us that we need to be extra caring to ourselves and very patient with ourselves and there should come a time where the intensity of the pain and loss we feel lessens, where we will start to have some better days, where we may feel more like getting back to our activities and hobbies. As this happens, we will find we can focus more on the happier memories and times spent with our loved one. It is important to remember that they were so much more than their death. Try to focus on all the years of their life and not let their loss overshadow all the years spent with them and the memories of good times which are there to cherish forever.
There is support available
While time is a healer and we learn to cope with the loss, if anyone is struggling and finding they are unable to move forward with their lives and feeling like they’re sinking into depression, it is so important to seek help from others. This could be by ringing a Helpline, by seeking counselling, by joining a support group, seeking spiritual help, but never feel alone with that pain. Knowing when to ask for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and there is support out there for those who need it. SupportLine is a charity providing emotional support and can give details of counselling services and support groups throughout the UK. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.supportline.org.uk for more information.