The loss of a loved one is perhaps the most difficult and emotionally intense event we experience. As we struggle to accept that loss, it’s natural to find ourselves consumed by powerful, complex and sometimes conflicting emotions such as pain, fear, sadness and even anger.
We each grieve in our own individual way. How we handle that grief depends on our personal backgrounds, how the person died and who that person was. However, there are some common threads that are found in all kinds of grief. Understanding these basic elements will help you see that you are not alone in how you feel. The following is a guide to coping with grief by Victor Parachin, a grief educator and minister.
On an emotional level, you will undoubtedly experience some of the following: disbelief, shock, numbness, denial, sadness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, loneliness or frustration. Physically, you may suffer from tightness of the chest or throat, chest pains, panic attacks, dizziness or trembling. You may even experience sleep disturbances, as in either too much or not enough sleep. All of these emotional and physical symptoms fall within the normal range of response to the loss of a loved one.
Grief is a deep wound, but it does heal over time. In fact, many experts say that the grieving process is complete when you are able to think of your loved one without pain. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel a sense of sadness when you think of someone you’ve loved and lost. It means that your sadness will be different, gentler, less wrenching.
While many aspects of grieving are universal — feelings of sadness, numbness, confusion, depression — there is no single prescribed way to grieve. Your approach to grieving will be as unique and multi-dimensional as the loved one who died. Sometimes, you may want to have many people around you to share and explore your feelings. Other times, you may prefer to deal with your loss more privately. Most likely, you’ll find that grieving is much like being on an emotional roller coaster. The good news is that the “ride” down is usually the prelude to the “ride” up.
It is not unusual to feel angry. Sometimes your anger may be directed at the person who died; other times toward other family members, medical staff or even your religious convictions. This anger will subside, but you can lighten the load through exercise or physical activity, such as housework or gardening, and by talking about your angry feelings.
This is perfectly normal. Indeed, grieving can be accurately described as a “crazy” time in one’s life. You may find that even everyday tasks become difficult or demanding – driving a car, paying bills, shopping for groceries. You can rest assured, though, that this disoriented, crazy feeling is normal.
A good rule of thumb during this period is don’t exert yourself. Carry a small notebook with you and write down things you need to remember; don’t rely on your memory. Let your boss and coworkers know that you may not be operating at maximum efficiency. And be patient with yourself. These feelings will pass.
Even though it may be difficult to believe, your tears will soon end. This will not happen right away but gradually, and even after the crying ceases, there may be times when hearing a favorite song or seeing a certain place will bring a moment of sadness. But keep in mind that crying is healthy because it is an emotional and physical release.
An excellent source to turn to while you grieve is a funeral director. This individual is experienced in helping people just like you deal with loss. Your funeral director will listen to your concerns, explain how others have approached their grief and give you any recommendations he or she can to help you.
Even though you will often feel helpless, there are important steps and actions you can take to make your grieving process a little easier. Here are some ways to cope with your pain from loss:
Find a relative, friend, neighbor or spiritual leader who will listen non-judgmentally and provide you with support as you sort your way through grief.
Being with others who have had a similar loss is therapeutic. Express your feelings or possibly even keep a journal. Feelings expressed are often feelings diminished.
Eat balanced, nutritious meals. Rest properly. Find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. If you experience physical problems, consult your physician promptly.
If your bereavement feels too heavy for you to bear, find a counselor or therapist trained in grief issues to offer some guidance.
“I think the most important service our funeral director provided was helping me understand that the intensity of my grief was normal. He was enormously supportive and even recommended a widower’s group that I attend every week.”
National Funeral Directors Association. “Healing After the Loss of a Loved One” (BR302). Brookfield, WI, USA.