Although we grieve many losses throughout a lifetime, such as losing a job or a home, the death of a loved one is especially difficult. It is probably the most painful of all human experiences. Whether it is a parent, child, sibling, friend or a pet, a whole host of feelings is triggered by loss, and the only way to truly heal from the loss is to fully experience those feelings.
Characteristics and Symptoms of Grief
There are a number of symptoms: physical, behavioral and psychological that accompany the emotional reaction to loss. A normal grief reaction may include a few or many of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in throat, chest
- Stomach discomfort
- Intense fatigue and lack of energy
- Loss of Weight
- Loud heart beat
- Sense of emptiness and heaviness
- Loss of sexual desire or hyper sexuality
- Sleep, appetite disturbances
- Increase in common illnesses i.e. colds, flu
- Physical symptoms that are the same as those of the deceased
- Restlessness, inability to sit still.
- Inability to intake and maintain organization.
- Withdrawal from friends, social situations and activities.
- Withdrawal from work.
- Absentmindedness, forgetfulness.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Excessive activity to keep from thinking.
- Preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased.
- Dreaming of the deceased.
- Auditory or visual hallucinations.
- Having a sense of deceased’s presence.
The Stages of Grief
All people grieve differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. Everyone spends different lengths of time working through each step and expresses each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages listed below do not necessarily occur in any specific order.
Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning of a death of a cherished loved is to deny the reality of it. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock.
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could have been done differently to save the person's life or prevent the loss. If this stage of grief isn't dealt with and resolved, the person may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.
In this stage, we begin to realize and feel the true extent of the death or loss. Common signs of depression in this stage include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. We may also have self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious.
Coping with loss is a personal experience. There is nobody that can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
There are variety of bereavement services that families in Medicine Hat can turn too when they are dealing with grief. Here are some helpful grief support links:
- http://www.griefshare.org/ - GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.
- http://tcfcanada.net/ - The Compassionate Friends offers support in the grief and trauma which follows the death of a child; no matter the age or cause.
- http://www.willowgreen.com/ - Willowgreen is leading provider of information and inspiration in the areas of illness and dying, loss and grief, healthy caregiving, life transition, and spirituality.
Help Yourself Heal – Move Toward Your Grief Not Away From It
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It's not that you won't be happy again. It's simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.