At some point in our lives, we all experience the death of a loved one: a spouse, parent, sibling, or some other cherished person. Losing that person may be one of the most difficult things we ever go through. Insomnia, long bouts of crying, and angry outbursts are all common for people mourning the loss of a loved one.
Unfortunately, our society doesn’t handle grief very well. We live in a fast-paced world that makes little space for people dealing with intense sadness. In addition, death is an uncomfortable topic for many people and even good friends may avoid the subject or expect you to “get on with your life” well before you are ready to do so.
While losing a loved one can be extremely painful, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the emotions related to your loss. This is essential to healing. If you deny your feelings or push them away, you only prolong the grief process.
While everyone’s grief process is unique, there are some reactions that many grievers experience.
- Physical Responses: Lack of energy, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and difficulty concentrating are all common for grievers. You may also have headaches, body aches, nausea, shakiness, and increased sensitivity to noise. Some people experience a sense of unreality or depersonalization.
- Emotional Responses: Sadness, guilt, and loneliness are all common, as well as anger, irritability, frustration, shock and regrets. Many people withdraw socially and become isolated. Some people may feel relief (e.g., “my loved one is no longer suffering”).
- Thoughts: Disbelief, constant thoughts about the deceased, and pushing through (“I have to get through this”) are all common. Fear, preoccupation with your own health/mortality, dreams about the deceased, and sensing that the deceased is present are all common as well.
If you’re experiencing any of these, take heart. While unpleasant, they are a part of the grieving process. Allow yourself to feel the pain, and with time, the intensity of your emotions will subside.
And remember, when it comes to grief, “healing” is not about forgetting your loved one or loving them any less. It’s about getting to a point where your emotions are more manageable, so you can carry on with your life, develop new relationships, and take on new challenges. Life may not go back to the way it was before, and that’s OK. The goal is to get to a point where you can tolerate living without your loved one and do the things that make life worth living (the things your loved one would want you to do).
Five Tips for Managing Grief:
- Let your friends know that it’s OK to talk about your loss. It can be as simple as “I want to talk about my Dad.” This gives your friends permission to bring the subject up and offers you a much needed chance to talk about your loved one. And if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine too. You can let your friends know that as well.
- Accept your feelings; don’t fight them. If you’re sad, allow yourself to be sad. If you feel like crying, go ahead and cry. Obviously, there are times when you may need to contain your emotions (e.g., at work). But allow yourself plenty of time and space to let out whatever it is that you’re feeling.
- Ask for help. You don’t have to go through your grief alone. Reach out to family and friends and accept their help. Find people you feel comfortable talking with and talk. Some people find grief support groups or individual grief counseling helpful.
- Be gentle with yourself. Take a hot bath, drink a cup of tea, go for a walk with a friend. Whatever it is that provides you comfort, give yourself permission to do that. Exercise can be very helpful. Avoid excessive drug/alcohol use (this can lead to increased sadness, depression, and other problems).
- Be patient with yourself and remember that grief takes time. Don’t set unrealistic expectations about when you should be “done grieving”. Everyone grieves in their own way and the timeline is different for everyone.
John “Andy” Bradshaw, Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern #101517 (supervised by Dino Di Donato, MFT #39831) provides grief counseling at Market Street Center for Psychotherapy. You can contact him at (510) 599-9845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Auer, Jim (2006). Carenotes: Five habits of those who grieve well. St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press.
- Carney, K. (2016). Grief, healing and the one-to-two year myth. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/grief-healing-and-the-one-to-two-year-myth/.
- Pathways Home Health, Hospice & Private Duty. Common grief experiences. Sunnyvale, CA: Author.
- Pathways Home Health, Hospice & Private Duty. Moving through grief. Sunnyvale, CA: Author
- Sims, Darcie (2010). Carenotes: Grief is what heals you. St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press.