What we all fear the most is the same – experiencing grief and losing a loved one. Of course, the more unexpected or sudden a death or loss is, the more fear it creates as we feel more helpless and entirely powerless because we never felt ready or prepared. But the realty is even when it is expected, we are never fully ready and we never really know how we will react to the death of a loved one.
The grief that follows the loss of a loved one tends to be the most intense. However, we also need to know that grief also follows a variety of other losses we experience in life. Examples include going through marital or relationship breakup, losing our health following an injury or illness, losing our finances or an asset of a sentimental value such as our home, having a family member suffering from a serious injury or illness, the death of our pet, or no longer being able to engage in our long term occupation as a result of an injury or illness. All these losses can create so much pain and suffering and mostly a sense of loss of self and loss of identify.
It is this sudden change of status quo that was unplanned. This sudden turning point in our life.
There is a feeling that we have lost ourselves. We no longer recognize ourselves at times or feel so overwhelmed that seeing a pathway for future directions and goals becomes blurred.
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. The grieving process is very individualized and personal such that everyone processes and experiences grief differently.
Whereas some might feel better after a few weeks, others might need years to feel better. There is no set time. In all cases, it is important to cope with grief actively and not ignore it.
A range of psychological reactions are often experienced when we are in grief, for instance:
- Being in shock
- Feeling sad, afraid, anxious
- Feeling angry and perceiving high injustice
- Being in denial
- Feeling numb
- Feeling lonely, guilty or helpless
- Feeling alone
- Feeling helpless, powerless or that we won’t be able to cope
We also often experience a range of physical symptoms, for instance:
- Reduced immune system which can make us more vulnerable to illnesses, infections and longer time to heal from wounds
- Feeling weak and experiencing body aches
- Low energy and elevated fatigue
We have often hear of the “five stages of loss and grief” introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969:
- Denial and Isolation where we tend to deny the reality and it becomes a defense mechanism to help us with the shock and the pain;
- Anger that could be aimed at anyone or anything because of the emotional pain;
- Bargaining occurs when, as a result of feeling helpless, powerless and vulnerable, we feel the need to take some control by asking ourselves if we could or should have done something differently;
- Depression with associated sadness, worries, regrets, and loneliness; and
- Acceptance which is about accepting the reality and recognizing that the new reality is the permanent one.
Not everyone goes through those emotional stages. There is no sequential order to these stages either. However, the more we know of the common emotional reactions one might experience we also realize that we are not alone and these reactions and how we feel is entirely normal.
Taking a proactive approach to our care and to our next chapter in life
- As part of coping, we need to identify, face and accept our thoughts and emotions and know that they are normal. They tell us something. The more connected we are to our emotions and thoughts, the more we will feel grounded to the reality and able to take a more a balanced outlook and take the one step at a step to move on healthy pathway.
- Connecting with others and seeking social support
- Some people also find it helpful to turn to their faith for further coping
- Searching for a meaning by creating a foundation or charity has also helped some moving through the grieving process.
- Joining a support group to talk about our pain, our suffering and the loss and the emotions we experience.
- Engaging in self-care such as trying to eat healthy meals and at regular times, engaging in some daily exercise (even walking for 15 minutes can be beneficial), engaging in proper sleep despite the insomnia you might experience, and refraining from unhealthy coping, such as with nicotine, caffeine or alcohol.
- Take it one day at a time and set minimal activities each day. Everything counts.
- Identifying any positives that exist, counting any gratitude, any self-learning that allows us to gain our personal growth.
- Don’t hesitate to seek professional help at any time and most importantly when you feel the symptoms become more intense and persistent over time and more difficult to cope with over time. If the grief becomes very difficult to cope with, or you don’t feel better over time, or you develop major depression associated with grief or any other health related issue, seeing a mental health professional would be recommended to further help you with the intense emotions and pain you are experiencing.
Mental and physical health problem can onset following any intense or persistent symptoms. For instance, one can develop clinical depression or other psychological health issues following grief.
- Signs of Major Depression associated with grief could include intense feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness, self-isolation, suicidal ideation, reduced psychomotor activity (slowing down of thoughts, speech or physical activity), inability to engage in our daily responsibilities or activities.
- Complicated grief can occur when our grief worsens over time and we feel unable to move forward or to resume our daily life and activities and functioning. Some symptoms of complicated grief include: denial of the loss/death, imagining the loved one is alive and/or searching for the person, profound longing, and avoiding anything that remind us of the loss.
Grief is personal and highly individualized. It might never feel resolved. But you want to feel that it no longer stands in the way of your ongoing life and journey.