Coping with Grief: Loss of a Loved One!

Coping with Grief: Loss of a Loved One!
Julie Doherty Naturopathic Physician Hackham, SA

An Accredited Member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society, Julie Graduated with distinctions from S.A. College of Botanic Medicine and Natural Therapies Pty Ltd. Professional Qualifications include: Naturopathic Doctor, Herbal & Homoeopathic Practitioner: Diet and Nutritional Medicine: Remedial & Therapeutic... more

The pain of someone close to us passing away, brings about emotional and  overwhelming feelings that are so many times can't even be explained.

You may feel that you are never going to be able to move on from these feelings that for the time being you think that you will never recover from.

However, you will because the person whom you have lost will want you to go on and to live your life and to once again be happy.

Every one of you will react to the death of a loved one and display grief differently as it is a very personal and individual experience. Important to remember that there is no right or wrong way in dealing with grief, other than not to allow yourself to become self-destructive in the process.

I want to share with you something that I have supported people over the years when working through grief is that, when you have lost a loved one, people will often say to you - "Oh you will get over it". I firmly believe that it isn't something that you get over, it is something that you work through. You will have, had many treasured memories and experiences with this person. These memories and experiences are the blueprint that they have left in your heart, never to be forgotten or gotten over. But to be embraced, cherished and loved for having had these memories and experiences.

As with the myriad of emotions that you go through in your life, grief is one that needs to be acknowledged and worked through, and not swept under the carpet.

Grief has an impact on your physical body, your emotions, thoughts and behaviours. This is why it is important to recognize the impact it has, giving you understanding as to what is happening and most importantly that these feelings and changes are normal, they won't last forever. But to know that it is OK to have them.

Physical Reactions

The phrase "having a broken heart" is in recognition of the impact grief has on your physical health. The impact of grief will often bring about these physical reactions -

  • Increased susceptibility to minor illnesses such as colds, viruses and flu.
  • Feeling depleted of energy, zapped of vitality, difficulty getting out of bed.
  • Heart palpitations, anxiety and mood swings.
  • Tightness or soreness in muscles, feeling of weakness with your muscle strength.
  • Stomach upsets such as gastro intestinal upsets, vomiting,  irritable bowel - going from constipation to diarrhoea, incontinence.
  • Headaches, migraines, loss of balance.
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing can be accompanied by tightness in your chest.
  • Difficulty sleeping, disrupted sleep. Loss of appetite.

It is important that you take these physical signs with a sense of genuine concern, to learn how to best manage them in consultation with a Counselling or your preferred health professional.

Emotional Reactions

When someone close to you has died it will throw your emotions all over the place, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and confused. These feelings may include -

  • Emotional hurt and pain
  • Sense of unexplainable sadness and shock
  • Guilt, Anger - especially if a loved one has died suddenly
  • Anxiety, situations that aren't normally stressful will be heightened to feelings of stress, anxiousness and sometimes even panic
  • Loneliness of not being able to have physical contact with the person
  • Sense of it being unreal, being confused and a sense of numbness
  • Emptiness and helplessness - This is where it isn't about filling a void that the person has left, but as time allows embracing the memorable experiences shared.
  • Yearning, Pining and even depression - Life is never going to be the same. No your life will never be the same, this person has touched your life like no-one else can, but it doesn't mean that your life won't be good again or you won't be happy.
  • Sense of relief or calm - If your loved one has suffered a long term illness or is very elderly this will bring a sense of peace and tranquillity.
  • Bringing the reality of our very own mortality

No matter the level or depth of your thoughts as mentioned this is different for each person, because each and every experience is different and how you work through it will be different.

Mind - The Powerhouse of your Thoughts

Your mind is capable of creating powerful thoughts, sensations and images. You may well find that your thoughts are focused on the loss of your loved one and the change of your circumstances for sometime. There is a link between your thoughts, your feelings that then lead to your behaviours.

Thought reactions you may experience:

  • Forgetfulness: forgetting things easily or having difficulty remembering and learning new information.
  • Confusion: you may well become confused easily, even with simple activities and disorientated.
  • Being Preoccupied with thoughts of your loved one who has passed away.
  • Mindlessness: You may well find that you will be in the middle of a conversation or thought process and your mind will just go blank.
  • Mind or Thoughts racing out of control: These may be totally unrealistic and totally of the radar. Making concentration difficult and bringing your mind back into balance with normal thought processes.
  • Dreams and Appearances: You may well have dreams and even times of lucidity when you feel the presence of your deceased loved one. You will have many dreams allow them to flow no matter how difficult it may be.

Changes in Behaviour

It is both normal and common when you are grieving to display changes in your behaviour. You are going through a traumatic experience and therefore your behaviours will change. Some of these may include:

  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to engage in social activities or seeing people.
  • Talking about the deceased person - many people find this difficult, where as other people find it comforting. Depending on the individual experience and situation. It is important to gently bring into conversation memorable moments that you shared.
  • Engaging with reminders of the deceased person. Their smell, their smile, their touch because many times people become frightened of forgetting them. This will never happen as your experiences with them lie deep within your heart and sole.
  • Avoiding reminders of the deceased person. Yes some people don't want reminders of the deceased person for their own personal reasons, as each person is different so are their behaviours.
  • Loss of interest in regular activities or areas of pleasure or enjoyment.
  • Crying: you may well find yourself - Crying as they say - "at the drop of a hat", once again this is normal, one moment you could be feeling quite happy and as if you are healing, then just out of the blue something will bring out those tears. This is all OK and normal. Allow the tears to flow.
  • Anger or Loss of Patience - this can happen easily and once again for no apparent reason. In understanding this will help you to realize that the anger is from the person passing away and not what is happening at the time.
  • Sense of Restlessness or Overactivity or Total Inactivity: are all indications of grief.
  • Engaging in destructive activities such as excessive drinking, smoking or taking drugs.
  • Negativity - voicing your thoughts or wishes about being dead.

It is important to realize that even though these behaviours are considered normal that you STOP! Yourself before allowing them to bring harm to you or your life. The last thing that your deceased loved one would want is for you to be unhappy or destroying your life.

How to Cope and Care for Yourself During This Time

There are many things that you can do, that will help you through this difficult time:

  • Find someone to listen to you - At these times you need someone whom you can just talk out your feelings and overwhelm. Someone who isn't judgemental or going to be critical passing on their thoughts. Just allowing you to be you.
  • Look after yourself: It is important so that you don't become critically ill, to pay close attention to eating healthy food, taking time to rest and sleep, gentle exercise going for a walk at the beach in the park. As you feel up to it read a good book, that you know you will enjoy, go see a movie.
  • Allow yourself time to Grieve: Allow yourself time to gently move through the grieving process. Don't place or allow others to place expectations on you as to how you think or they think you should be. It is important to work at your own pace, this is a time to feel, be in the moment.
  • Take alone time - it is important to have time to be by yourself, enjoy your own company. Allow all these thoughts, emotions and behaviours to come to a balance of peace and harmony.
  • Give yourself permission to ask for help: If there is anything that family and friends can do or be to make this process easier for you. During these times it is difficult for family and friends as they may inadvertently say or do the wrong thing. So let them know what is helpful to you.
  • Talk about the deceased person: This may be difficult, but it will help to use their name and bring them into conversation as they were and still are an important part of your life.
  • Talk to the deceased person: This may seem strange, but it is nice to talk to them as you would have when they were here.
  • Celebrate the life of the deceased person: Any areas of life that you would have celebrated together when they were alive, continue to celebrate as memorable and cherished moments you shared together.
  • Acknowledge that there will be ups and downs. Life is full of ups and downs, and the grieving process is no different. There will be times when you will feel on top of the world once again, then there will be times when you feel down again. Be kind to yourself, be gentle and embrace every cherished moment.
  • Remember the deceased as the person they Truly were: It's OK when their weaknesses come to mind, their faults or their annoying habits, not to forget their strengths, endearing qualities and the reasons you loved them. It helps the grieving process to remember the real person and not a fantasy.
  • Prepare Ahead: anticipate that certain "anniversary" dates are likely to trigger strong feelings and reactions. These dates could include - birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and so on. Understanding that as these times come up that you may feel a little down or upset initially will help with not having these feelings long term. Over time the intensity of these feelings will lessen.
Coping with More Complicated Circumstances

There will be times when the death of someone will provoke more complex reactions and more complicated emotional and behavioural response. An example of this can be when someone dies as a result of suicide, the family can often feel very isolated, with suicide still being seen in a very negative light in society. This can be further complicated by the fact that there may be a myriad of feelings of hurt, anger, guilt, confusion and resentment for those being left behind.

Another area is that of an estranged partner to the deceased. This tends to throw you out of the safety net, sometimes leaving you without adequate social support. you may have been divorced, maybe a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence, but this does not mean that you will not go through a grieving process. Grieving through estranged relationships and complicated circumstances can be more complex. Remember that you still have the right to grieve and express your feelings of loss. It will be important for you to seek help and support, talk about what you are feeling and ask for the help that you may not necessarily want, but will need to help you through the process.

Seek Help Outside of Family and Friends

It is helpful to talk to people outside of your family network and friends. Often these people may be going through their own grieving process if they have had a connection to the deceased person.

Professional people can offer alternative perspectives, empathy without sympathy and can just be a great sounding board for getting your head in a better space.

Extra support may include:

  • Your local Health Professional
  • A Counsellor, Lifestyle Coach, Social Worker or Psychologist
  • Your local community or health centre
  • A Grief support group or religious affiliation
  • Books, videos, Cd's etc are available from your local library or book store, that will provide additional strategies and support.