What’s normal? How do I move on from here? When will life ever get better? What are other people going to think? How can I ever by myself again? Why??
The questions surrounding grief and loss are endless.
What are normal causes of grief?
Grief is a common experience and it is the normal reaction to a significant loss. A significant loss is a broad term that captures anything that added value, meaning, purpose, or identity. This loss could be the death of a friend or family member, the death of a pet, divorce, relationship breakups, broken friendships, miscarriage or still births, disability, loss of a body part, disease, chronic illness, retirement, loss of employment, or relocation or moving. The common theme in grief is the loss of something that was significant.
How do people respond to grief?
Reactions to grief may include:
- Tears, sadness, depression
- Shock, numbness
- Anger, irritability, outbursts, regression in behavior
- Isolation, withdrawal,
- Lack of trust in yourself and the world
- Naivete and innocence is broken
- Become over-busy, distracted, forgetful
- Changes in sleep, appetite, and hygiene
- Pretend to be fine, feel a pressure to be the “strong one”
Responses to grief will vary based on temperament, personality, life circumstances, previous stressors, and accumulated losses. The same loss will never have the same impact.
When should we be concerned about someone’s grief reaction?
An immediate red flag and warning sign is when you or someone else has thoughts, plans, or intentions of suicide, homicide, or self-harm. If you or others are considering suicide, homicide, or self-harm then it is essential to reach out to professional help right away.
Other concerning factors include any over-use or abuse of drugs, alcohol, food, or sleeping pills; an inability to meet basic needs of sleep, nutrition, and personal hygiene; continued avoidance of normal activities; continued avoidance and isolation from friends/family; or persistent symptoms of depression, anger, denial, anxiety, and hallucinations.
These symptoms, thoughts, or behaviors are strong indicators of the need to reach out to professional help with a counselor, doctor, or psychiatrist who can actively support someone through grief recovery.
How do I heal from grief?
The healing and recovery process takes active involvement and attention. It takes a lot of courage, energy, and effort to acknowledge the loss and process how all the subsequent losses have affected and changed your life. Grieving needs time alone where you can sit with your thoughts and emotions. It’s also essential to allow people in your lives who can support you through your grief, allowing you to be vulnerable and broken, and encouraging you when you feel overwhelmed with the loss. Friends, family, support groups, or professionals can provide normalization and validation of the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses without pressuring you to move on, be okay, or be strong. With creativity and thought you can also find ways to honor and remember the loss.
As you are able, focus on creating a healthy life rhythm of adequate hydration, nutrition, sleep, and exercise. This is essential in allowing your bodies to muster up the energy for reengaging in life and giving your brains the resources to think clearly again. Eventually you can work towards creating a new normal. Given time, perspective, and reflection you can incorporate the loss into your personal story, allowing all of your life stories to shape you and your interactions, relationships, values, behaviors, thoughts, and pursuits.
How long will it take to heal?
The healing and recovery process after a significant loss can take about two to three years to return to a normal pattern of living. Various grief reminders will appear through holidays, birthdays, and traditions; though there will eventually be a time in which you feel ok again. Healing from grief requires an active role of working through it, processing, acknowledging, and discovering your new normal patterns.
What else should I remember?
Remember that there is no correct way to process grief. Try to trust your gut and your intuitions about what feels right for you. Grief is one of the most significant experiences that can shake up your world, worldview, beliefs, sense of safety and trust, and relationships. It’s important to keep wading through the process, taking breaks when you need, and laughing when you can. Find places and people with whom you don’t have to be the strong one. Remember that you will make it through this and the pain won’t last forever.
If you are supporting someone else through their grief experience, then focus on being physically present and available. You don’t have to say the right thing. In fact, there are so many common yet unhelpful phrases that are invalidating to the person who is grieving, such as “everything has a reason and purpose” or “I know how you feel.” Instead you can focus on being present and available or helping with basic needs like meals, babysitting, chores, grocery shopping, and other life tasks.
Grief Book References & Recommendations
“Life After Loss” by Bob Diets, written 2009
“Tear Soup” by Schwiebert, DeKlyen, and Bills, written 2005