Unfortunately, we aren’t taught how to prepare for the death of someone close to us, although grief is one of the strongest emotions we’ll ever have to bear. It can produce feelings of loss, helplessness and sadness that are very difficult to cope with.
There is no easy way around grief. It is a natural response to the loss of someone special or something we value. Grief is not well understood in our society and some people try to deny it, postpone it or avoid it – there will be big and small adjustments which have to be made in your life. You will change. Your routine will change. Your moods will change. All of this is called ‘grief’. It is really about adapting to the changes in your life, your thoughts your hopes your beliefs and your future.
There is no set pattern to follow when you are grieving. Even members of the one family who are mourning the loss of the same person, will show their grief in diverse ways. This happens because individuals are affected by things like:
- How you cope with stress
- Communicating Emotions
- The relationship you had with the person
- The circumstances under which the death occurred
- The support you have around you
- Personal issues which may be brought to the surface at this time
Some common grief reactions include:
- Crying – I can’t cry or will I ever stop crying
- Anger – It’s not fair
- Relief – I’m glad the suffering is over
- Shock – (I can’t take it in)
- Numbness – My body seems to be on 'auto pilot’
- Guilt – If only I could turn the clock back
- Frustration – Why don’t people understand me
- Panic – How will I cope
- Depression – I don’t care anymore
- Fear – What if I can’t cope
- Low Energy – I’m too tired
- Confusion – I can’t think straight
- Rejection – How could they do this to me
- Emptiness – I feel like something is
Grief usually does not last forever – even though at first, grieving people may believe “I’ll never get over this”. The length of time the grieving process takes will vary from person to person, and in a family situation this variation can cause tension. Grief is a very important thing! Each of us grieves in our own way over different periods of time.
Grief is also for children. Like adults, children will react to the news of death individually, perhaps with unexpected responses. The child may say, “it’s not true” or lash out physically or verbally. Wanting to be left alone or being curious and full of questions may be more common for some children than sadness.
Later, as the loss sinks in, some children may show their grief by changed behaviour, like angry outbursts or a lack of interest in their usual activities or schoolwork. Fears may surface – “Who’s going to look after us now?” “Will we have to move house?” “I’m afraid to go to sleep.” “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Children are best helped by adults who give them clear and honest explanations about death and who allow tears or other feelings to surface without criticism or rejection. To say to a young child “We lost Grandma in the night” or “Daddy has gone to heaven” can be vague and confusing. Such explanations equate death with simple going away and can leave the child with the expectation that at some future time the person will return. Often cuddles, hugs and some quiet time together will satisfy a child who is feeling frightened or unsure about the changes happening in the family. There is no easy way around grief. It is a natural response to the loss of someone special ...
Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable when a school friend or family member dies because their grief may become complicated by the usual ups and downs associated with adolescence. Their need to appear ‘grown up’ in front of their peers, or their family, could result in isolation and difficulty in asking for help or expressing feelings.
It is not necessary for adults to hide their own tears from children of any age – your grief will show them that they need not be ashamed or scared to express their own. By doing this, they will not carry unresolved childhood losses into their adult lives, nor will they learn unhelpful ways of coping with grief such as masking their true feelings or believing that they must bear their hurt, confusion, questions, anger or fear silently.
There is a universal need to express grief, which can be met in different ways, depending on the person and his or her beliefs, circumstances and culture. It is important to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness or poor coping skills. Rather grief is a healthy normal part of the healing process.
It might seem unbelievable now, but most people learn to readjust to their loss. You can do this too. This doesn’t mean that your grief will be ‘cured’ or that you should forget the person who has died. Even in years to come there might be occasions when you will still feel sad.
What is probably the difference when you have moved through grief, is that the loss is not the total preoccupation of your thoughts. Your energy for living will return. There will be no need to put on a happy face to please others – you will be able to smile again because you really want to. Life will be different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate it again.... grief is a healthy, normal part of the healing process.
It is best not to put a time frame on the whole experience of grief. This creates
unrealistic expectations and doesn’t allow for individual differences. You need to deal with your grief and face any changes in your life.
To do that you may need to:
- Talk about it – It will help let it sink in
- Look after yourself – Eat, drink, sleep, get fresh air and try to avoid alcohol and sedatives
- Ask for help – Don’t think you have to cope on your own
- Understand your friends – Friends can be impatient so tell them what you feel and share your grief
- Stay positive in your thoughts – You will get over this
- Be aware of advice givers – Don’t allow people to entice you into replacing or avoiding your grief – e.g. going on holidays or buying a car
- Be prepared for ups and downs – memories sparked by birthdays, anniversaries etc can bring you down. You need to find a way to remember the person that brings you comfort – e.g. a permanent memorial where family and friends can visit is something worth considering for a number of very important reasons.
A memorial is a focus for reflection and a permanent marker for family and friends and future generations to come to remember and pay their respects.
Accept loss as a part of life – If you love someone you must also be willing to let them go when their life ends.
Our Staff do not claim to be grief experts, but we do keep updated with what the experts say. We collect resource materials and can provide these free of charge. Furthermore in our local community there are many organisations, which provide support for the bereaved, and we can refer you to them should you wish – it’s important for grieving people to know that often they need more help and support than their family or friends can provide.
* extracts from “Now that the funeral is over – understanding the effects of grief” by Doris Zagdanski copyright 1993. They are reproduced with kind permission of the author.