FOCUS ON: Grief and Coping with Loss

How you cope with the loss of a loved one is a personal  experience, unique to each person. Despite what the media may portray or what theorists may write, there is no “recipe” or “map” to follow when it comes to grieving. 

Three candles on dark background

There is no right or wrong way of coping with a death. There are however, a variety of factors which may impact the grief process a person goes through following the death of a loved one, these include:

  • your personality
  • the amount of support you have
  • your cultural and religious background
  • your coping skills and mental health history
  • the relationship you had with the person who died
Grief: The normal process of reacting to a loss.

Bereavement: The period following a loss, during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs.

Mourning: They process by which a person adapts to a loss, and is often times influenced by cultural customs, rituals, and societal rules for coping with loss.

Mad with Grief

For those who have never experienced a significant loss this may sound odd, but it is important for those who are grieving to know:

  • Grief is chaotic
  • You are not going crazy
  • What you are experiencing is normal
  • It may feel like everything is out of control but it is temporary and you will be okay

Common or “normal” grief reactions include: disbelief, shock, anger, denial and numbness combined with a variety of intense emotions, resulting in all sorts of moods and reactions that impact differently on different parts of your life. See what I mean when I say that grief is chaotic?

Grief is most often expressed through crying, feelings of intense sadness and a longing for the deceased. These and other reactions vary in intensity and duration – no two people ever grieve the same; and so when in the midst of grieving, it is helpful to know and to remember that what you are experiencing is normal.

It is only when these grief reactions remain unchanged in their intensity for a prolonged period of time and as such, prevent you from carrying on with normal life, that they begin to be viewed as abnormal and destructive.

Myths about Grief

1. Phases of grief

As a result of the work of popular grief theorists, such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and J William Worden, there is the widely held misconception that following a loss those left behind need to work through a fixed set of tasks (Worden’s “Tasks of Mourning“) or stages (Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Loss“). The truth of the matter is there are no studies to validate these grief tasks / stages. What we do know for sure is that grief never follows the same path, it differs from person-to-person in both pace and manner.

2. There is a time limit on grief

Sorry, but no. With time your grief may become more manageable or may feel different, but it is something you will carry with you forever. This may sound depressing and morbid but it really isn’t – if you think about it, you’ve lost someone you love deeply and you will carry that person and loss with you in some form always.

3. If you aren’t crying, then you’re doing it wrong

Really? There are 1000s of ways of expressing and feeling ones grief and crying is just one of them. Some people are criers and others are not – there’s nothing wrong with either of them.

4. You need to: move on / get over it / find closure

There is no final destination or endpoint with grief. Grief is not like attending a course that you endure for X amount of months and then on Y date you finally get to graduate and move on. Rather, grief is something you learn to carry with you in a healthy and meaningful way while you move forward with your life.

5. Your grief is different / less if the person who died was: old / suffering / you knew they were going to die

Grief is grief regardless of how the loss was experienced. No-ones grief is bigger or better or deeper rather, each person’s experience is their own and cannot and should not be compared to anothers.

6. You look okay on the outside, so you must be okay on the inside

Perhaps the most difficult thing about grief is that you carry it with you while carrying on with your normal life. Unfortunately in today’s “modern” world there is little time or space for people to mourn and grieve; there are demands on your time and life that you are expected to return to as soon as possible. So just because a person looks okay following the loss of a loved one, don’t make the assumption that they are feeling okay.

7. S/he wouldn’t want you to be sad

This has got to be one of the most annoying things to say to a person who is grieving, together with: s/he is in a better place; at least they didn’t suffer; this too shall pass; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; you are never given more than you can handle – the list is endless!

Grief Reactions

As already mentioned, grief phase theory is not supported by research however, what is generally agreed on are the reactions most people experience when dealing with a loss. What is important to remember here is that the reactions noted below are not always experienced by everyone, are not a blueprint for “how to grieve”, are not about working through and mastering.

  • Shock – this generally follows immediately after the death.
  • Reaction – comes when you start absorbing and processing what has happened.
  • Re-orientation – gradually return back to life’s duties

It is, once again, generally agreed that, for many, a way of adapting to and coping with a loss is by moving between the three points, alternating between addressing the loss and avoiding things that recall it.

Support After a Loss

For some grieving is an intensely personal and private thing, while others may actively seek out the support and company of others to help them through it. As already mentioned, there is no right or wrong when it comes to grieving. Sources of support you may want to consider following a loss include:

Family and friends – Often your friends and family want to help but don’t know how – tell them what you need, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to help with the growing mound of dirty washing.

Faith and religion – If you follow a particular religious tradition, draw comfort from the mourning rituals it may provide. Alternatively, you may find solace in spiritual activities such as praying, attending a service or meditating. If you find you are questioning your faith follow your loss, talk to a leader in your religious community.

Support groups – You may be surrounded by family and friends and still feel lonely. For some, sharing their experience with others who have experienced a similar loss can be helpful.

Counselling – If you feel that your grief is too much to bear, consider seeing a counsellor who can help you work through the intense emotions you are experiencing or obstacles you may be encountering.

Look After Yourself

Grieving involves immense emotional and physical stress, which you may not even be aware of; it is thus important that you remember take care of yourself.

  • Be honest with yourself, and others, about your needs.
  • Be realistic about how much you can take on.
  • Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise.
  • Practice saying ‘yes’ when someone offer to help or practice asking others for help.
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol as an escape from the pain or a way to lift your mood.

For more information about grief or how to support someone who is grieving please visit:


References:

Dyregrov, K. and Dyregrov, A. (2008). Effective Grief and Bereavement Support: The Role of Family, Friends, Colleagues, Schools and Support Professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

E. Haley, E. and Williams, L.E. (2015). 64 Myths about Grief that Just Need to Stop. Retrieved from:  http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/64-myths-about-grief-that-just-need-to-stop/

Smith, M. and Segal, J. (2016). Coping with Grief and Loss: Understanding the Grieving Process. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm#resources

Sontag Bowman, M.A. (2011). Overview of Grief. Retrieved from:  http://www.helpwithgrief.org/index.html

 

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