The loss of someone you love can leave you with overwhelming emotions. These can include grief, shock, even anger, all of which can take control of your life, excluding all else. Most people will tell you that there is no right way to grieve. Some will be unable to function and find they have to let out all that emotion. Others will hold it in tightly and focus on something like work, sometimes to the detriment of their physical and emotional wellbeing.
What is Grief?
We grieve for any loss. For some things it might be mild and take a few days to get over. Learning a friend has an illness, the loss of a pet or even the loss of a job might be heart breaking but you quickly come to terms with them. Other losses are more devastating and can cause long term emotional suffering including when a relationship breaks down or someone very close to you dies.
Much will depend on the significance of the loss and who you are. There are no particular rules and regulations and no set path that people should follow. How we cope with grief and loss is one of the most personal things we are exposed to during our lifetime. For some it can last a few months, for others it seems to influence behavior and emotions for years to come.
You have to be strong: In Britain it’s called showing a ‘stiff upper lip’ but actually there’s no rule saying that being strong in the face of your grief and not showing emotion is in any way good for you. If you want to cry then cry, if you feel frightened and alone then express your emotion, and if you are angry that a loved one has left you accept that you feel this way. Bottling up your emotions is an old fashioned myth that can do more harm than good.
You have to cry: There have been many people who haven’t cried over the loss of a loved one. It doesn’t mean you are wrong in some way or that you don’t feel as deeply as others who are weeping solidly over a loss. It simply means you cope with your grief in a different way. Don’t feel guilty or somehow deficient of emotion just because the tears aren’t rolling down your cheeks.
You should grieve for X months: If anyone tells you that your grieving period should last 6 months or a year then don’t listen to them. We really all do grieve in different ways. The initial pain of loss may diminish but the grief might not disappear for years. That’s okay. It’s fine to feel that pain and it’s natural. Don’t think that there is something wrong with you if your period of mourning goes on longer or shorter than expected.
The Stages of Grief
There are some distinct stages in the grieving process. That doesn’t mean you will go through them all, you may even skip most of them. But if you are suffering from any of the following, then, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you.
The initial stages of grief can be a real rollercoaster involving some or all of these five stages. You don’t necessarily have to go through every stage and you don’t have to do them in order to feel that you are grieving in the ‘correct’ manner. There are no neat packages and these stages are simply a way of understanding and acknowledging grief a little better.
You can show a range of symptoms during grief. There may be shock or disbelief in the early stages when you learn about the loss. This might be followed by a period of profound sadness, elements of guilt and anger. Loss can lead to fear especially if someone close to you has died such as a partner or parent – how are you going to cope without them? What does the world look like now this person doesn’t occupy a space with you? There can be physical symptoms as well such as extreme tiredness, loss of appetite and various aches and pains.
Getting the Support You Need
One of the key factors in coping with grief is to draw on the support you need. This can be difficult in the initial stages but there are plenty of sources that you can all on, including:
Friends and family: The staple of any support network, is the family as they will know what you are feeling and hopefully be able to listen and comfort you over this difficult period. There’s no harm in telling people what you need – whether it’s help organizing a funeral or just some time to sit and talk through your emotions. Many times friends and family will want to help but are not quite sure how to approach you. They may be relieved when you actually ask them for something.
Support Groups: There are plenty of these around and many local areas have them. They cover everything from people who have lost a job to support for family bereavement. Talking with someone who has been through the same loss as you is probably one of the most important parts of coping with grief.
Counselling: There are various counselling services available if you feel that the grief you are carrying is simply too much to bear. This can help you come to terms with your loss and find ways to cope with your emotions. Other options, if you have faith, are to make contact with your local church and find solace there either through prayer or talking to your local priest or religious leader.
Personal Care for Grief
Looking after yourself during this time can be the last thing on our mind but it is something you should try to do. This includes facing up to your grief and not trying to run away from it. Avoiding feelings can extend the grieving period and may lead to other problems such as the development of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Looking after your physical health is important too. Eat properly and get enough exercise. If you don’t fancy getting down the gym, then at least makes sure you go out for a walk. You may also want to look at expressing your grief in different ways – perhaps starting a journal and putting down your thoughts and memories.
The key is not to let anyone define your grief but you. It’s yours to own and is as individual as you are. There may be moments when the grief returns after you thought you had conquered it – for example anniversaries or special occasions, the sight of a particular picture or mention of a place. Don’t worry. This is perfectly natural. Don’t listen to anyone who seems in a hurry for you to get over your loss.
When Grief Becomes Depression
There are times after a loss that your grief may turn into something more problematic. The sadness of losing a loved one will probably remain with you forever but it should gradually move away from being the central focus of your life. If it doesn’t you may be going through a more complicated period of grief that seems deeper and more debilitating.
Symptoms can include an intense longing for your loved one that doesn’t seem to go away, imagining that they are still alive and denial of what has happened or extreme anger at your loss. Many of the symptoms of grief share a lot of the attributes of depression. The difference with depression is that these feelings of being low and having great sadness are more pervasive, there are no good days when you sense that you are finally coping.
This step from grief to depression may mean that it’s time to seek professional help from your physician or a counselling service. If you’re symptoms include feeling that life isn’t worth living or that you are simply numb and disconnected from the world around you, particularly if you are entertaining thoughts of suicide, then finding the right support is imperative.
There is help out there and it may be difficult to reach out for it but doing so can allow you to move on with your life and finally come to terms with your loss.