The grieving process
When we experience a major loss, grief is the normal and natural way our mind and body react.
Everyone grieves differently but at the same time, there are commonalties. For example, someone experiencing grief usually moves through a series of emotional stages, such as shock, numbness, guilt, anger and denial.
Physical responses are also typical and include sleeplessness, mood swings, inability to eat or concentrate, lack of energy, and lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
As cliché as it sounds, often time is the biggest healer. As the days, weeks and months go by, you will move through emotional and physical reactions that lead toward acceptance, healing and getting on with life as fully as possible.
That being sad, it is completely natural to feel overwhelmed during the grieving process. Here are some tips to help you manage your grief and reduce its emotional and physical impacts.
Realise your grief is unique
No-one will grieve in the exact same way.
Your experience will be influenced by a variety of factors, including the relationship you had with the person who passed away, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system, and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with others’ or adopt assumptions regarding how long your grief should last. Instead, take a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach allowing you to grieve at your own pace.
Talk about your grief
Express your grief openly, as this is a normal part of the grief journey and an important step in the healing process. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away and despite what you may think, talking often makes you feel better.
Allow yourself to speak from your heart and never feel that this means you are losing control or going “crazy”.
Develop support systems with the right people
Reaching out to others and accepting support can be difficult for many people. One of the best ways to encourage healing, however, is to establish a support system of caring friends and relatives.
Find people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings, and avoid those who are critical or try to downplay your grief. Comments like “keep your chin up”, “carry on”, or “be happy” may be well intended, but unfortunately can often have the opposite effect.
It can also be especially healing to talk to those who have lost loved ones from the same cause/s, as they can understand and relate to what you are going through.
Expect to feel a variety of emotions
Experiencing a loss affects your head, heart and spirit. You may experience a variety of emotions as part of the grieving process, including confusion, disorganisation, fear, guilt, relief, and/or explosive emotions to name a few.
Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time, or they may occur simultaneously. Either way, they are completely normal and healthy.
Don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed but remember, they are a natural response to the passing of a loved one.
Be kind to yourself
Feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired and your lower energy levels may slow you down.
Respect what your body is telling you. Nurture yourself, get lots of rest, eat balanced meals, and lighten your schedule as much as you can.
Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself. It means using your survival skills, accepting your feelings, having compassion, and asking for help when you need it.
Allow for numbness
Feeling dazed or numb when someone you loved passes away is often part of your early grief experience.
This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This in turn helps create insulation from the reality of the passing, until you are able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.
Acknowledge the importance of the funeral ritual
The funeral ritual does more than commemorate the passing of a loved one. It is a way to express your grief, gain support from people who care, and establish some sort of ‘closure’.
If you eliminate this ritual, you often set yourself up to repress feelings which is an unhealthy and potentially harmful practise.
Also, be aware that if you decide against a funeral, it means others will not have the chance to pay tribute to a person they cared deeply for.
Memories are the most priceless legacy when someone passes away.
Don’t block them out, instead treasure and share them with family and friends. Recognise that your memories may make you laugh or cry but are a lasting part of the relationship you shared with that special person.
Searching for meaning
You may find yourself asking, “Why did they die?” “Why this way?” “Why now?”
The search for meaning is another normal part of the healing process, with some questions that can be answered and others which remain open. Healing, however, ultimately occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them.
Finding a supportive friend or community who will listen and provide empathy as you search for meaning is immensely helpful.
Embrace your spirituality
If faith is a part of your life, surround yourself with people who support your beliefs and won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.
You may find that some people will say, “with faith, you don’t need to grieve”. Be very mindful of this as faith does not insulate you from needing to talk about your thoughts and feelings.
Express your faith but remember to express your grief as well.