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Losing a loved one: a guide to managing and processing grief

24 November, 2014

The loss of a love one is one of the most challenging life events that most people will, at some stage, experience. The grieving period can pass quickly, but sometimes it can become a prolonged process that warrants the attention of professionals or the support of other loved ones. If you’ve lost someone close to you, you’ll understand the devastation of grief and the need to consciously deal with and manage grief.

Understanding grief

Grief can be deeply painful and complex, but it’s a completely natural reaction for those who have lost something or someone. Grief can arise from the loss of a loved one, as well as other life events such as relationship breakdowns or unemployment.

Grief can be understood as our response to loss, and it’s associated with feelings such as fear, anxiety, numbness, anger and, of course, sadness. Grief has been likened to a storm: the grieving person can feel fine for hours or even days, and then the emotions return to them. It’s important to understand that dealing with grief takes time, and it requires the grieving party to feel what they’re feeling and process their emotions. 

 

    

Grief has been described as coming in stages. However, not all stages are necessary for healing.

  • Denial – Often the first reaction is denial, where the grieving party feels disbelief at the fact that their loved one is gone.
  • Anger – Anger often comes after denial. The grieving party questions why they have experienced the loss. At this stage, they often focus on who or what is to blame for their loss.
  • Bargaining – The grieving process is also associated with a bargaining stage, during which the grieving party tries to ask for the return of their loved one in return for something else.
  • Depression – After the bargaining process the grieving party might move into the depression stage, during which they experience deep sadness and hopelessness.

How people grieve differently

How you grieve depends on your personality, temperament, religion or faith, and life experiences. It can also vary depending on your cultural background, and age or developmental stage. Allowing healing to occur gradually and taking time to process your emotions gives you the best basis for managing and overcoming your grief.

Note that while some people find that they start feeling better after a few weeks, others can take months or even years to fully process their grief. So it’s important to remember to be gentle and patient with yourself and others who are grieving.

Everyone grieves in different ways, regardless of whether it’s a child or an adult.

  • Shock – Often the loss of a loved one results in feelings of shock that the person or animal has died.
  • Longing – The grieving person may feel a strong sense of longing, and missing the departed loved one.
  • Anger – It’s not uncommon for those grieving to feel strong anger at their loss. The anger may be associated with feelings of resentment and abandonment, or a sense that the loss is unfair.
  • Guilt – Some people who are grieving find that they feel guilty in some way. They may feel that they should have saved or helped their loved one. Alternatively, they might feel guilty for being alive while their loved one is dead. This is common for those who are with a person when they die unexpectedly, as they experience a sense of ‘survivor’s guilt’.
  • Sadness – Deep sadness and depression is not uncommon for people who have recently lost a loved one.
  • Anxiety – Often grieving people feel anxious about their future and worry about how they will deal with life after the loss of their loved one.
  • Poor concentration, sleep, and appetite – Many people find that they have poor concentration and are distracted by thoughts of their loved one. Others find that their sleeping patterns have been completely disrupted. Others experience poor appetite.
  • Denial and disbelief – Many people cope with grief instinctively by denial and disbelief.
  • Sense of helplessness – Many people who are grieving experience a deep sense of helplessness at their loss.
  • Fear – Some people feel fear at the thought of having lost their loved one. Insecurity, helplessness, and anxiety are all linked to this sense of fear. The death of a loved one confronts us with our own mortality, and the prospect of having to live on without that person in your world is confronting for some.
  • Physical symptoms – Many people experience physical symptoms as they proceed through the different stages of grief. Fatigue, lowered immunity, weight loss, weight gain, aches and pain, and nausea are not uncommon.

    

Strategies for dealing effectively with grief

Everyone deals with grief differently, but acceptance, support, and expression can help anyone who’s processing the loss of a loved one. Use different strategies and anticipate your grief triggers, and you’ll begin the path to healing.

Find support

Find your own personal support team, whether it comprises of a grief counsellor, friends, family members, or others who have experienced a similar loss. Join a community bereavement group and talk to your doctor if you feel it will help. On the other hand, if you feel like being alone, don’t let feelings of guilt overwhelm you. Being alone is a natural, normal process for some.

Give it time

Remember there’s no uniform time for recovering from grief. Give yourself time to heal, and be patient with yourself. The loss of a loved one is one of the most challenging things we encounter in life.

If it’s someone else who has lost a loved one, the same advice applies. Give them time to grieve, and try not to become impatient or frustrated if you feel that they’re taking too long to move on. Instead, put yourself in their position and provide a supportive shoulder for them to lean on.

Let yourself express your grief

Find ways to express your grief, whether these involve allowing yourself to cry alone, journaling your thoughts, writing a letter to the loved one, or creating a scrapbook or photo album to celebrate their life. These expressions of grief will help you release your sadness and set you on the path to healing.

Engage in physical activities

Getting active helps you release tension and other bottled-up emotions. Staying active also keeps your body healthy, so you can deal with your grief more effectively. Walk, run, or join a sporting team to stay active.

Look after yourself

Other than exercising regularly, you should look after yourself by eating well and getting enough sleep. Avoid relying on medications to numb your grief unless you have a specific condition. Rest well and stay healthy, and you’ll be able to heal more effectively.

Anticipate grief triggers

Many people who are grieving find that grief triggers are one of the hardest things to deal with in the aftermath of losing a loved one. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be difficult times as they can bring up emotions you thought you had processed.

Anticipate these triggers and prepare yourself for an emotional dip, knowing that it’s normal to feel this way. Talk with friends and relatives about your feelings, so you have some support when the triggers arise. On these occasions, you can also make an effort to do something positive so that you add more good memories to the day even though they aren’t there with you. Or, you could do something they had always wanted to do, and do it for both of you.

 

     

 

Be kind to yourself

Don’t judge yourself as you grieve, and give yourself time to experience your feelings. Do something you like to do every day by engaging in activities that give you feelings of peace, comfort, and healing. Meditation, yoga, and other activities can be calming and have a healing impact on your mind and body.

Celebrate your loved one

Celebrating the life of your loved one can be one of the best ways to support your healing. There are many different ways in which you can honour their life. You can write a letter to them, plant a tree for them, create a special album or notebook in their memory, or make a donation in their name.

If you require mental health support, CBHS have a program that may help. Contact our Health & Wellness team on 02 9843 7620 or 02 9685 7567. Alternatively email wellness@cbhs.com.au.

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