The loss of someone or something you love or care for is a very difficult and complex experience. There can be so many different responses to significant loss – and there is no such thing as “healthy” or “appropriate” grief. However by understanding the grieving process, you may find a framework that helps to make sense of your experience, and that helps to manage the pain and the healing process.
What is Grief?
Grief is a multifaceted response to losing something or someone significant. Although it is usually associated with death, there are many different kinds of loss such as can occur with divorce, illness, unemployment, or loss of financial stability or friendship.
Loss can be either physical or abstract. Physical loss relates to something that can be touched or measured. While abstract loss relates to less tangible aspects – such as changes of experience, identity or status.
The phenomenon or experience of loss is highly personal and varies from individual to individual. So too the impact of loss and the associated grief which can be influenced by many different factors.
Grief can evoke a myriad of complicated emotions. There is no one way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently because it is a personally unique and distinctive experience. A grief response is influenced by such factors as circumstance, context, age, personality, prior experience as well as culture and beliefs.
However there are several aspects of grief that can be commonly experienced.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Grief
Shock and disbelief
This is usually the initial reaction after a loss. It can be hard to believe that the loss really happened. You can feel stunned or numb or can keep expecting that it is all a bad dream and that when you wake up, everything will return to the way it was.
Deep hurt and sorrow are probably the most common components of grief. You feel emotionally fragile, and tearful. . You have feelings of loneliness and despair and are overcome with a yearning to fill that emptiness.
Guilt and Regret
Guilt or regret can arise when you remember things that you did or didn’t say, do or even feel. You can feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the loss, even if there was nothing that could have been done. Or there can be guilt about not grieving intensely enough.
It is not unusual to feel angry or bitter and to channel negative emotion onto someone or something that you can blame for the loss regardless of how irrational it may be.
You can be overcome by feelings of anxiety, fear and powerlessness – either in relation to your own mortality, or perhaps the fear of continuing life in the aftermath of your loss, and thought of the challenges you will have to face.
Grief emotions can often manifest in physical symptoms, including, exhaustion, nausea, weight change, and insomnia.
Dealing with Grief
The grieving process is not a precise framework with a neat, sequential series of stages but rather a terrifying roller coaster ride. You may feel that your world has been turned upside-down and everything is going so fast while you’re being thrown in different directions and no matter how much you prepare yourself, you can’t seem to keep up.
Some people feel better in weeks or months while others take years to recover. It is important to accept your own personal process. Patience helps the grieving process to unfold naturally.
It is when you feel stuck in grief for a long time, or unable to cope with unavoidable demands, that the grieving can become overwhelming.
When experiencing grief, you need to remember to look after yourself. Stress can drain your energy and draw you into deeper grief. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally will help you to cope better through difficult times.
Having the support of others is very important. You may feel awkward and uncomfortable talking about your experience with other people but sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry.
If you are unable to connect with your family or friends, then consider speaking to a grief counsellor who can help you work through the intense emotions and obstacles you may be facing. Having someone who can listen to you and offer practical suggestions can be a huge coping resource. Counselling can assist with understanding loss, finding practical ways to cope, maintaining social and family relationships, as well as to process recurring emotional setbacks – such as may occur on anniversaries and special occasions associated with your loss.
The following clip, from Reach Out Australia, tells the story of a person’s experience of grief and how it affected their life.
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