What is grief?
When we experience loss, it’s only natural that we experience grief as well. Although painful, grief is a form of coping that is triggered when we lose something or someone we love. Overtime it actually helps us to understand and later accept our loss. Grief is multifaceted and is expressed not only emotionally, but physically, mentally, behaviourally and spiritually. This means that the normal reactions can include feelings of shock, disbelief, anger and guilt but we may also experience more physical reactions as well such as fatigue, loss of sleep, loss of appetite or even mental fogginess. It’s true that loss of any kind remains one of life’s greatest challenges, but another important truth is it is something that time can heal. Remember that grief is a natural and personal process and there’s no wrong way of grieving. Once you build an awareness of how you’re feeling, it’s a little easier to seek support and give yourself the care you deserve.
Stages of grief
When grieving, some say that we move through the 5 stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. This is a theory developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 and is by no means a rigid framework of how one should feel. Kübler-Ross justly says that the stages aren’t meant to be organised into neat emotional packages, but are rather a common collection of peoples responses. To resolve grief one mightn’t experience all, or any of these feelings for that matter, let alone sequentially. Our grief is our own, it is equally as unique as our personalities and lives. Kübler-Ross expresses it poetically; “there is no typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss”.
The effects of grief
The most explicit expression of grief is through emotions and how we convey it in our behaviour and communication. There is the initial shock and disbelief, telling oneself that what happened isn’t true. Followed by sadness and guilt whereby we take responsibility for the loss of our loved one, or regret the things we did or didn’t say or do. This regret can translate into anger and resentment, even if the loss wasn’t due to the fault of another. The most destructive effect of grief is stress, as stress effects you emotionally and physiologically. The stress of loss is the predominant cause of many of the physical outcomes, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep deprivation, weight loss or gain, aches and pains and even a weaker immune system. If you are experiencing any of these effects, it is important that you regard them as just that. They are effects, not symptoms, as grief is a healthy and natural human process, not an illness. This perception is important, as changing our mindset and understanding what we’re feeling is one of the first steps of healing and acceptance.
How to help the healing process
Often with grief, we tend to isolate ourselves and try to hide our pain. Sometimes it’s difficult to acknowledge our emotions, let alone open up about your thoughts and feelings, but communication of support is vital. Simply being around people who love and care about you is enough to start the healing process, as with a safe environment we feel more comfortable to confront and recognise our emotions. Don’t be afraid to express yourself when you feel you need to, most people will understand your loss and will be happy to support and encourage you in your journey to heal. Sometimes sharing the loss with people you trust makes the burden a little easier to carry. Here are a few other ways you can support yourself when dealing with loss.
- Try not to ignore your thoughts and feelings, acknowledge and accept them, both positive and negative. Being patient with yourself is key.
- Let yourself have a moment to cry. Crying is actually a great way for us to alleviate pain both emotionally and physically.
- Talk to someone you trust about your experience of loss and how it has affected you.
- Start a diary and document your journey in healing after loss.
- Take care of yourself, eat well and healthily, take some exercise, rest and socialise with friends and family.
- Sometimes a support group can be helpful, but if not maybe try taking up a new hobby.
- Visit your GP, or talk with a therapist or grief counsellor. Don’t be intimidated by this idea, as it’s actually very normal practice and the therapist will help you facilitate your own healing without judgement.
- And finally, always remember that you’re not alone.
When to get help
In the event of any of the following apply to you, it may be worth sourcing some help.
- Feelings of depression or anxiety.
- Feelings of isolation.
- Inability to engage in daily life activities and routine.
- If one of your loved ones is also overwhelmed.
- Feel as if life isn’t worth living.
- Intense feelings of guilt and blaming yourself for the loss.
- Prolonged feeling of being numb and disconnected from others.
The best place to start is a visit with your GP. They will advise you about the support services in your area, refer you to a counsellor in a trusting and non-judgemental environment.
Tusla – Child and Family Agency
Tel: (01) 771 8500
The Samaritans Ireland
Free Call: 116 123
Tel: +353 1 4734175