Coping with Grief

Introduction

  • It is important to understand the various experiences of grief.

  • Each person has his or her own timetable and his or her own style of grief.
    You may struggle with several feelings at the same time. The depth and duration of each experience is different for everyone. You may experience a feeling briefly, intermittently or struggle with it daily. 

  • Understanding the various phases helps you to cope. Knowing that others have gone through this pain and have eventually been able to reinvest themselves in life gives one a sense of hope.

Disbelief:

“It can’t be true.” You keep thinking that any minute you will wake up from a bad dream/nightmare.
Sometimes you can’t cry at first because you don’t really believe it happened. Often people will comment on “How well you are doing.” Inside you know that the reason you appear to be doing so well is that you just dont believe it.

Shock:
Shock is nature’s way of softening the blow. It serves as a cushion - giving you time to absorb the fact of your loss.
You hear the words, but do not comprehend the full impact. Emotions seem frozen. You feel disoriented, restless, numb, bewildered, stunned and unable to think. It takes everything just no function. You go through the motions like a robot and feel as if you are an observer watching this happen to someone else.

Sobbing/Crying:
Sobbing means to weep aloud with short, gasping breaths. Sobbing is an outlet for the deep strong emotions that accompany the death of a loved one. Some people cry often and cry a lot. Others push down their tears, but this may lead to psychological or physical problems. It is helpful to cry - to release all that pent up emotion. Cry alone or with others - but take time to cry. Accept the grief - don’t try to be brave and fight it. At first, you need to take time to grieve daily. Looking at pictures/mementos, playing special music, may aid in releasing pent-up tears. Men can and should cry. Crying is a good model for children. When adults cry, children learn that it is ‘okay’ to cry and to express their feelings. Children learn to share their feelings instead of suppressing them and struggling alone.

Repetition:

You may find that you are saying almost the same things to the same people. The same thoughts keep running through your head. In saying the words and hearing ourselves over and over again, it helps us to believe what has happened. It is important to find friends who will listen, especially someone who has experienced a similar sorrow.

Reality of Death:
‘It’s true.’ ‘It really happened.’ This is a frightening time. We feel that we are getting worse. Often this happens after people who have been so helpful have left. It seems as if we are going backwards. Actually, this reality has to ‘hit’. The best advice is to ‘lean into the pain’. As much as we don’t want to hurt, we must.

Confusion:
‘I can’t think.’ ‘I forget what I am saying halfway through a sentence.’ The simplest decisions seem impossible. It is difficult to concentrate and follow through on things. You feel disorganised and error-prone. Bereaved often feel impatient and want to do something, but feel unclear as to what to do. Sometimes motivation to do something may be very low and basic survival needs may not even be met. Confusion abounds because you are using all your emotional energy to grieve and there is very little left over for anything else. The weariness due to grief may affect thinking and concentration.

Identification:
Many people seek to identify with their loved one who has died by wearing their clothes, taking up a sport they liked, planning to follow in their footsteps, etc. It is a way of ‘staying close’.

Anxiety/Panic (Fear of Losing Control):
At first you may fear being alone. You worry about the future and may be afraid that something else will happen to another loved one. You often panic at the approach of special dates (birthdays, holidays, anniversary of the death). Usually they are not as difficult as the days prior to the special days. This is due to our unbelievable panic and apprehension. You may feel as if you are ‘Going Crazy’. It may seem as if you are losing control of yourself. Usually we don’t tell anyone that we think that we are ‘going insane’. Sometimes bereaved have thoughts of suicide as the only way to escape the physical and emotional pain. We panic at the prospect of ‘always feeling like this’. We feel that we should be doing better and panic when we don’t. Our situation may seem hopeless and our thinking becomes jumbled. Panic is normal. If panic seems intolerable, you need to do something about it. Talking about out feelings, getting busy with something, sobbing, screaming, exercise - all may help to release the ‘panicky’ feelings. Emotional and physical fatigue contribute to our panic. Good nutrition and rest are vital.

Preoccupation:
Your loved one who has died may be in your thoughts constantly. You may think of nothing but the loss. You may even dream of your loved one, or be preoccupied with his/her image. Even at work, church, doing the dishes - in fact, no matter what you are doing - you may find that part of your thoughts are always about your loved one. The intensity of this preoccupation usually lessens with time.

Anger:
Anger may be directed at ourselves; other (including the family members, spouse, doctors, nurses, person who caused accident); the person who died; God; or we may experience a general irritability. We may feel angry towards people who push us to accept our loss too soon, or who pretend that nothing happened. Anger is normal. Pushing down anger is harmful and may cause things like ulcers, high blood pressure, or depression. Unacknowledged anger may be directed at innocent people and unrelated events. It will come out one way or another. It is often difficult to admit being angry. Erroneously we may think, ‘nice people don’t get angry’. It is important to recognise our anger. It is helpful to find ways to express our anger, such as screaming in a private place, walking, swimming, aerobic classes, tennis, golf. Talking about our anger also helps us to define, understand, and learn how to handle it.

Guilt:
Many people are tortured by ‘if only,’ and ‘what ifs.’ ‘If only I had called;’ ‘If only we hadn’t let him/her take the car that night;’ or ‘If only I had taken time to listen and visit.’ We tend to blame ourselves for something we did/didn’t do that may have contributed to the death, or for things that we wish we had done for our loved one. Feelings of guilt are normal, though often not realistic. It is best not to push down the guilt. Talk about it until you can let it go. Hopefully, in time, you will realise that you did the best you could under the circumstances. None of us are perfect. The past is behind us. All we can do with guilt is to learn from it for the other people in our lives. When the death is by suicide, it is especially important to remember we can’t control the behaviour of another person.

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