Dealing with Grief

What Is Grief?

Grief is a natural response to death or loss. Each year, between 5% and 9% of the population sustain the loss of a close family member. But that’s not the only kind of loss that can cause grief. People can feel loss when:
• They become separated from a loved one
• They lose a job, position, or income
• A pet dies or runs away
• Kids leave home
• They experience a major change in life such as getting a divorce, moving, or retiring
While we all experience grief and loss, each of us is unique in the ways we cope with our feelings.
Some people have healthy coping skills. They are able to experience grief without losing sight of their daily responsibilities. The grieving process is an opportunity for someone to appropriately mourn a loss and then heal. It’s facilitated by acknowledging grief, allowing time for grief to work, and finding support.  It is important to know what grief is, to know it’s normal and to develop your own support system and set of coping skills.

Tasks of healing grief:
1. Accept and allow the reality of the loss
2 Experience the pain and sorrow
3. Adjust to the environment where the deceased is missing
4. Withdraw emotional energy from the deceased

* Family wants you to be ‘normal’;  that pressure can make you feel guilt and shame for being a drag or a downer, unsocialable.  Our culture is not set-up to help us grieve.
* Disenfranchised grief – not being able to openly grieve and show emotions which may seem unappropriate to family or friends that don’t realize the situation.  “Disenfranchised Grief : recognizing hidden sorrow”  Author:  Kenneth J. Doka, 1989
* One of the biggest blocks to healing grief from profound loss is the subconscious belief that we cannot be healed

Self Care Advice:
* Allow yourself time to mourn each day.
* Don’t isolate, share your pain.
* Talk to a grief counsellor or clergyman.  Debriefing and sharing with a professional has been shown to be extremely helpful.
* Join a grief support group if appropriate.
* Know the phases of grief.
* Nurture yourself – art, poetry, music, massage, write in a journal.
* Above all don’t judge yourself and be gentle with yourself.
*  Use your intuition and self-knowledge to take care of yourself in the best possible way for you.

Stages of Grief:

1.  Shock – numbness, disbelief and often denial; confused mind.
2.  Emotional Release – the release takes many forms:  crying, nervous energy, angry words or physical action.  The natural tendency is to contain or control this, especially in the presence of others.  It is vital to our well-being to find socially acceptable forms of release within a supportive environment that includes other people.
3.  Pre-occupation with the Loss – when we enter this stage, our minds seem to be beyond our control and direction.  The loss dominates our thoughts.  Then this pre-occupation begins to fade and we fear that we no longer care.
4.  Symptoms of Physical and Emotional Distress – various physical symptoms such as insomnia, tightness in the throat, hollow feeling in the stomach, poor digestion, general weakness and fatigue.
5.  Over Reacting – lack of mental control and physical fatigue from the earlier stages leaves us tired and irritable.  We tend to over react, become hyper-sensitive, and respond with hostility and anger.  The lack of logic that we exhibit in this stage often causes us to question our sanity.  We find ourselves lashing out at the people who care the most about us or are the the most able and willing to help.
6.  Guilt – can be triggered by virtually all of the stages, but most often becomes a dominant focus when we find ourselves overreacting.  Unanswered questions now haunt us … could we have done more?  Why did it happen?  And the eternally unanswered question…what if?
7.  Depression – with grief we are no longer able to give expression to the relationship or dream that has ended and so depression is an inevitable part of the process.  When the power in our lives to consiously make new decisions, begin new relationships lifts like fog evaporating in the bright sunlight of a new day.
8.  Withdrawal – with all the mental and emotional confusion of a loss, it is difficult to maintain social relationships, even those that have been deeply meaningful.  For a time this may be healthy.  However, without good friends who can draw you out of your self-imposed isolation, this becomes a bottomless pit.  The pain of loss cannot be avoided even when we isolate ourselves.  It takes a very strong person to venture forth knowing that the pain of loss will inevitably happen again; yet, without connecting, there can be no healing.
9.  Resolution, Re-adjustment, Acceptance – gradually perspective returns – “…there is life after…” – and so we begin to live again.  We have moments of relapse, but they become less frequent and the good days begin to hold such blessings that the dark days can no longer cloud the joy of being alive.

To speed-up the Grieving Process:

1.  Work through the denial that hides our true feelings.
2.  Work through the feelings that hide the hurt and attachment.
3.  Work through the hurt and attachment that hides the loss loneliness.
4.  Work through the loss and loneliness that hides our current lack of self-worth.
5.  Work through the lack of self-worth that hides our total confusion.
6.  Work through the total confusion that hides our need to be in control.
7.  Work through unfinished business with the deceased person.
8.  Sort out and deal with previous unresolved loses (all types of losses, not just by death).
9.  Beaware of concurrent strersses or crises that may not be related to the bereavement experience.  Their presence may impede grief recovery if not dealth with.
10. Utilize social support.  Others may be unaware of your needs or desires to interact with them, therefore it may be up to you to invite visitors into your home or out for a social actitivty.  Let people know it’s okay to mention the deceased person’s name or discuss some aspect of his/her life or death.
11. Monitor the use of drugs and alcohol.  Although heavy sedation to block the mourning process is not wise, mild sedation to prevent exhaustion and severe insomnia and disease resulting from them, may be quite therapeutic.
12. It is not uncommon for the bereaved to not eat or complain of the altered taste of food and impaired digestive functioning.  Despite this, it is essential that adequate nutritional balance and eating habits be maintained.  Inadequate nutrition will compromise the ability to cope with loss, meet the continuing demands of daily life and overcome the numerous physical symptoms generated by the stress of grief.
13. Sleep disturbance is normally expected in the grief process, however, a lack of sufficient sleep may predispose the bereaved to mental and physical exhaustion, disease and unresolved grief.
14. Adequate exercise not only keeps the body in good physical condition, but it also provides an outlet for the emotions of grief.  It allows for a reduction of aggressive feelings, a release of tension and anxiety, and a relief of depression.
15. Try make a few plans but not too far in advance.  The difficulties with thinking into “tormorrow” can be softened by knowing there will be something that needs doing tomorrow.
16.  Release our need to be in control and allow ourselves to surrender to the higher power and purpose in our lives and trust.
17. Change your emotional attachment to and investment in your loved one to reflect the reality that s/he is no longer able to return the emotional energy that went into your relationship.  This doesn’t mean forgetting about the person.  Rather, you need to channel this emotional energy elsewhere where it can be returned for you emotional satisfaction.

Think       Write         Talk         Weep         Run         Dance       Sing         Drum       Draw

Some places to go or call or get information from:

Living through Loss Society

Alan Wolfelt, grief counsellor

Tips on healing grief

Trauma or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder):

Sudden shocking losses can be particularly difficult. These include: (1) deaths that occur without warning, providing no opportunity to anticipate, prepare or say goodbye; (2) the death of one’s child (some evidence it’s worse with young children than adult children); (3) deaths that occur as the result of violence or of violent harm to the body; (4) a death in which the body is never recovered; (5) multiple losses deaths of more than one person; and (6) deaths that occur as a result of the willful misconduct of others, carelessness or negligence. Causes of such losses include disease, accidents, suicide, homicide, war and terrorism complicate the usual grieving process.

Symptoms of Trauma or PTSD:

1.  Re-experiencing of the traumatic event as indicated by painful, intrusive thoughts or nightmares about the death.

2.  Avoidance or emotional numbing, as indicated by marked efforts to stay away from activities, places or things related to the loved one’s death.

3.  Feeling detached from others and an inability to feel positive emotions.

4.  Increased persistent anxiety and physiologic arousal, as indicated by difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating and a tendency to become startled easily. Although many of these symptoms also are common in normal grief, if all four clusters are present it is likely that the person is also experiencing PTSD.

*  Talk to a trauma counsellor or clergyman.  Debriefing and sharing with a professional has been shown to be extremely helpful.