“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for
that which has been your delight.”
~Kahlil Gibran

Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one. It is the set of feelings and behaviours that are the expression of your love for the person who has died. Grief is a necessary process for healing the wound that is caused by separation. Death can be an overwhelming experience for the remaining loved ones and it is important to engage in self care strategies following a significant loss.

Typically, the loss of a loved one arouses intense emotional, physical and spiritual pain and it is normal and healthy to express the pain that is felt. “Everyone who loves is vulnerable to the pain of grief” (Dr. Joyce Brothers, psychologist), as grief is an expression of love.

Grief is unique to each person and there is no formula or right way to grieve following the loss of a loved one. Rather than coming in stages, grief is more chaotic in presentation, and commonly, a wide range of feelings is experienced. The feelings may vary in intensity from time to time and even moment to moment. The following illustration shows the many expressions and experiences of grief, but it is not suggested that each of these experiences is felt by everyone or that there is any particular order or sequence of grief.

Hope for Bereaved handbook , Syracuse, New York

You may experience some or all of these feelings, beliefs and behaviours at various times, repeatedly or constantly, and you may struggle with several feelings or experiences at the same time.

Initial Reactions
It is common to experience shock on first hearing about your loved one’s death. Accompanying this experience may be denial, numbness or disbelief as you struggle to make sense of the news and the immediate impact. Some of the tasks that are necessary following the death, such as telling others about the death and making funeral arrangements, although difficult, can facilitate coming to terms with the reality of the death. It may also be useful for some people to see and/or touch the body of the person who has died. Only do this if you feel it would be helpful to you to say good bye.

It is important that you have support through this time and it can be very helpful to allow other family members or friends to share the load in whatever way that assists you. If you have children living with you or somewhere else, it is important to explain to them what has happened and to ensure that they too are supported. Depending on age and individual nature, it may also be useful for children to be involved in the funeral arrangements and to be included in the funeral itself. Some children may also wish to see the person in the coffin, but be guided by how much involvement the child wishes to have. Children will need a lot of reassurance and encouragement by way of positive affirmation and physical closeness, after experiencing the loss of a close relative or friend.

Ongoing grief
Beyond the funeral period it is important that you continue to have support through your grief experience, as this can be the time that becomes particularly lonely and isolating, and friends may withdraw from making regular contact in the belief that you are ‘getting over it’. It is often after the funeral that the full impact of the loss is realised and experienced.

The ongoing grief experience may at times become overwhelming and seem to be never-ending. It is generally the case however, that the very painful feelings of grief diminish over time, or that the intense times become less frequent. Grief is not always predictable, and grief emotions and experiences can arise at unexpected moments.

It may be the case that just when you thought you were getting on top of things, you are overcome with an intense feeling of sadness or anger or some other grief experience. This is normal, and grief has often been described as coming in waves. Try not to fight back and be stoic at these times, but where possible, roll with the waves, as this will assist the processing of strong emotions.

Grief is very powerful and can drain the body’s energy resources. It is normal to feel fatigued and low in energy during a grieving period. It is therefore important during this time to nourish your body well. Try to ensure that you eat healthily, have sufficient sleep, engage in gentle exercise and other relaxation activities. This is not the time for making significant changes or decisions about your life; it is a time for recuperation and healing.

Feelings of guilt may be prominent following the death of a loved one. You may experience guilt or regret for things you have done or failed to do, or have said or failed to say to your loved one. Guilt and regret are normal responses in grief, as we wish we could have done things differently, or we wish that the situation was other than what it is.

Although difficult, it is important to keep guilt and regret in perspective, and to recognise that you have acted with all of the knowledge, skills and emotional and physical capacity at the time. Recognise that you did not operate with a crystal ball of seeing into the future, and that you are a different person at this point in time, with greater knowledge and skills and capacity, and you are probably making harsh judgements of yourself in the past.

If you are unable to move past your guilt, please seek professional help, as retaining guilt can be very damaging and can limit your ability to heal and move forward.

Spirituality often enters into the grieving process. You may find yourself looking for or questioning the higher purpose of life. Your religious or spiritual beliefs may be strengthened or diminished through your loss and grief. You may feel comforted by your faith or punished by a higher power. Often through the grief process, new meanings and beliefs are formed. It may be useful to speak with a Counsellor, Spiritual Adviser or religious person about your beliefs and your loved one’s death.

Time frame for grieving
There is no recommended period of time that is considered to be a normal grieving period, as each person’s grief experience is different. However, it is recommended that if intense painful feelings do not diminish or become less frequent after some time, or if you are having difficulty performing the regular functions and routines in your life, you seek professional help.

Grief is not an illness that can be cured, and it may be that you or others think you should be ‘over it’, as if cured from your disease, after a period of time. There is no quick fix with grief and it requires a great deal of patience and courage to live through your grief experience. Traditional Western culture minimises the grieving process, both in terms of display of emotion and in the time frame that is expected should be allocated to the grieving period.

It is not helpful to minimise or deny your grief, for to do so limits the opportunity for healing and growth. Just as a physical wound takes time and tender care to promote healing, so too does the emotional wound that has been caused by the loss of your loved one. This wound, though invisible to others, is deep and real, and requires no less care and attention than you would give to a deep physical wound. Even more, this invisible wound affects your entire being: emotionally, spiritually, physically and socially, and thus requires great care and attention for its healing.

Delayed Grief
It may be that your grief is delayed or denied for various reasons, and that you return immediately to your normal routines soon after the death and funeral, with little reflection or time spent grieving the loss of your loved one. If this is the case, it is advisable that you become aware of changes in mood or behaviours at some later stage. You may not relate any changes in yourself that you may later experience or that others may notice in you, to unresolved grief.

Some indications of unresolved grief are: increased anger or a ‘short fuse’; avoidance behaviour in relationships; reduced or excessive engagement in activities including work; increased alcohol or drug use; apathy and depression. In the case of delayed or denied grief it is advisable to seek professional help when you or others notice changes in you. A person who has not processed their grief is more prone to physical or psychological illness.

Towards Healing and the Future
It is hoped that in time, you will arrive at acceptance of your life as it is now, without your loved one, and that you may even find new meaning in your life. To live effectively in the world, to reconnect with people and life, and to find a genuine joy at living again, is evidence of healing through grief. New insights and meanings about life and self may emerge along with new hope for the future.

You may find that you redefine yourself, or start to develop new skills or take on new roles, re-establish old friendships or form new ones. This does not diminish the relationship you had with your deceased loved one. On the contrary, the greatest way in which you can honour your loved one is to live life to the full in their memory.

Some people like to engage in work that builds directly on the memory of their loved one, such as continuing with a work or a cause in which their loved one was involved, or setting up a fund, or volunteering their time to assist others. Whatever you choose to do, your acceptance of life and personal involvement is the key to healing and honouring your loved one.

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