Grief is a broad topic that covers many kinds of losses and an immeasurable range of emotions.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to:
- the loss of a loved one or
- a distressing experience such as divorce, losing a limb or being diagnosed with a serious disease.
Bereavement is a period of grief and mourning after a death. Death is a part of life, yet losing a loved one is at the top of the list of one of the most difficult experiences we ever go through. It’s an experience that lingers long after our loved one has passed away. We experience a range of unexpected emotions and the pain can even disrupt our physical health.
What are the symptoms of grief?
Grief symptoms can be both emotional and physical.
The emotional symptoms may include:
- Increased irritability
- Preoccupation with the loss
- Inability to show or experience joy
Some of the physical symptoms include:
- Digestive problems
- Chest pain
- Sore muscles
The grieving process:
Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the 5 stages that people go through when grieving. However, it is important to understand that people are different and not everyone will experience the following stages. These 5 grieving stages show up in no particular order.
1st stage: Denial
In this first stage, people are usually unable or unwilling to accept the situation that they find themselves in. What they are experiencing may feel like a bad dream. The loss is surreal to them and they are somehow expecting to be woken up from the bad dream so that things can go back to normal.
2nd stage: Anger
After people have passed through the denial stage and have accepted that the death or situation has really occurred, they begin to feel anger at the loss and the unfairness of it. They become angry at the person who has died or at the situation that they find themselves in and may sometimes feel abandoned.
3rd stage: Bargaining
After the second stage, comes bargaining. An example of this is where the person grieving would beg God to undo the loss or situation. This phase usually involves promises. For instance, they would say things like “I’ll be a better person if you bring him/her back.”
4th stage: Depression
When it is clear and evident that the loss or situation is irreversible, people may sink into a stage of depression where they confront the reality of the loss or situation. During this phase people may withdraw, cry and struggle to eat and sleep. Some people tend to blame themselves for what happened in some way and believe that they contributed to the outcome, whether this is justified or not.
5th stage: Acceptance
Finally, in their own time, people enter a stage of acceptance where they have processed their grieving emotions and are able to accept that the loss or situation has occurred and cannot be reversed. At this time, they once again start to look forward and re-engage in daily life.
How do I recover from a loss of a loved one?
After one has gone through the 5 stages, the recovery process may begin. Grieving is a process that is unique to individuals. There is no right or wrong way of grieving, how a person chooses to grieve is their choice.
Here are some of the ways one can recover from a loss of the loved one:
- Express yourself – This is a way for you to be able to express what you are feeling. People are different and have various ways of expressing themselves. You can talk to someone you trust about your feelings, keep a journal, or do something creative such as make pottery, knit a scarf or even write a poem. You can do anything that will help you to express yourself.
- Allow yourself to feel sad – The days will not be the same, some days will better than other days because you are learning to live without your loved one. This can take time and sometimes feel very painful so be patient with yourself.
- Keep to your routine – This may be difficult especially if you were used to your loved one doing certain things like cooking the dinner, but try to get back into your routine. This will help to normalize things quicker.
- Sleep and eat healthily – Grief takes a toll on our emotions and bodies so it’s important to get enough rest and lead a healthy lifestyle. Bodies that are well nourished are better prepared for stressful situations.
- Avoid numbing the pain – As hard as it may be it’s always best to allow yourself to go through the pain. For some people this can be very difficult, therefore they self-medicate and numb their pain with alcohol and/or drugs. This may have long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to recover from the pain and loss of their loved one.
- Go for counselling – sometimes you can be so overwhelmed you just don’t know where to start in terms of dealing with your loss, which is understandable. Seeing a counsellor can help you to deal with your loss.
It may feel as though the pain will never go away and life will never be the same again. It is true that your life will change because of your loss. However, facing the pain will help you to feel and deal with your grief, and in time, come to terms with losing your loved one.
Just be patient with yourself and take one step at a time.
Compiled by Nonkululeko Ngema, Registered Counsellor (SA)