Loss is the act of losing someone or something. Grief is the feeling of intense sadness that results from experiencing such a loss. Although experiencing the death of a person is the most common cause of grief, there are many other causes such as the following;
• Divorce or end of a long-term relationship.
• Infertility or miscarriage.
• Loss of work, or retirement.
• If your pet dies or get missing
• Loosing a close friend
• Loss of health – either yours or that of someone close to you.
• When you lose your possession or dream.
Grief is a natural way of processing loss and coming to terms with it. This could take weeks or years, but grief does decrease over time as acceptance takes place. If someone’s grief is severe and intensifies over time; it could be a sign of the emergence of depression after the event or, if the loss was as a result of a shared traumatic event, post-traumatic stress disorder.
One person’s grief may not be the same as someone else’s experience as we are different people. Our backgrounds and cultures will impact our perception of grief, and personal religious beliefs may also play a part.
Symptoms of Grief
There are many symptoms of grief. These can be grouped into four categories of expression such as;
1. Physical: Crying, loss of appetite, overeating, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, tiredness, insomnia, headaches or other types of pain.
2. Emotional: Anger, blame, frustration and guilt.
3. Social: Isolating oneself from social interactions, inappropriate behavior in social settings, poor grooming, and decreased personal hygiene.
4. Spiritual: Questioning of life based on your beliefs, i.e. what is the purpose of life; what happens to someone after they die; why did something bad happen to a good person; are we meant to learn something from suffering?
Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist, described five stages of grief in a book that she co-authored with David Kessler, a death, and grieving expert. It is important to note that a person may not experience all the stages or even the sequence in which they are listed. Some stages may even recur during the process.
The stages are:
This stage is characterized by thoughts such as: “This isn’t happening”, “There must be some mistake”, “This is a nasty joke.” The reality of the event hasn’t sunk in yet.
When denial is fruitless and reality is faced, there is an anger that is either directed at the self or towards other people. For example, “I told her not to do that”, “Why me”, “Who is to blame”, “I knew I should have done things differently”.
Some people feel that they might reverse the event by contemplating a trade-off, such as “If I give up smoking, he’ll come back to me” or “If I start living a vegan lifestyle the disease will go away” or “If I start going to church she’ll forgive me”.
After someone’s death, the survivor – e.g. a partner or parent – may lose the will to live. Another person facing a serious medical diagnosis might not want surgery or treatment, thinking that they’re eventually going to die “So why fight now?”. These negative emotions will increase if not treated.
In this last stage, people come to terms with the situation and reality sets back in: “I can go on”, “I’ll fight this setback”, “I’m going to die so I need to get my affairs in order”.
Coping with Grief
The first step in coping with grief is to acknowledge the loss to yourself. Many people think they have to “be strong” for others during a time of loss, but this denial of grief and/or mourning will become detrimental over time and lead to one’s own emotional problems.
Although the intensity of the acute pain of loss and grief does subside over time, some people will continue to feel that loss for a very long time. It is important, though, to not feel guilty about feeling happiness or joy during recovery from loss. Life does continue and the event that caused the grief should not make you withdraw from family, friends, and society.
If important decisions need to be made whilst still grieving, these decisions should never be made alone as grief may cloud rational thinking. Life, as it was, may no longer exist, but life will have a new normal that needs to be planned for and carried out.
Looking after one’s own health during grief is important: eat healthy meals, take an interest in your personal hygiene and how you dress, get enough sleep, do some exercise – even if it’s only a walk around the block – and don’t ignore existing health issues.
Where to Get Help
Never feel that you are alone. There is always someone who will be able to give advice – even if it’s advice that you are not yet ready to hear. Keep your mind open to suggestions from others.
Speak to trusted family members and friends about how you feel. Don’t isolate yourself or hide your emotions or pretend that you are okay. Sometimes a shared grief is a halved grief.
If you are a religious or spiritual person, turn to someone within that community and draw strength from your particular beliefs and pray, read religious texts, or meditate to find peace within your mind.
If you are mourning the death of a loved one, try to replace that sense of loss with rather celebrating that person’s life. Remember the good times and the love and laughter you shared. Don’t dwell on the negative, focus instead on creating happy memories that can be shared with children, grandchildren, etc. Your loved one would probably have preferred to have his/her legacy be one of positivity and joy.
Join a support group or anxiety forum, if necessary. Even if you have a strong support structure, you may benefit from hearing how other people, in a similar situation to yours, are coping. You may learn things from them that others have no experience of.
Consider speaking to a therapist if you feel that you cannot cope and have identified symptoms of grief that are detrimental to yourself.
There are different types of therapy and one, or more, will be beneficial to you. In the event that your grief has developed into depression, you will be referred to a specialist who will prescribe appropriate antidepressants or mood lifters, or a combination of both.
There is always a light at the other end of the tunnel of despair.