Understanding Grief

The death of a loved one, friend or family member often puts us in touch with our own thoughts and feelings about mortality.  All of a sudden we realize how quickly life can end.  It is normal to feel out-of-control, and overwhelmed.   Realize that you are grieving.

The first step toward regaining a sense of control is to understand grief.  Grief is a physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual reaction to loss.  It is natural, normal and necessary.  It may cause a variety of reactions, including:

  • Feeling tired and irritable.  You may experience insomnia or feel tired all the time.
  • Appetite changes.  You may or may not feel hungry.
  • Feelings of anxiousness.  You may feel worried and excited at the same time; like your heart is racing and you cannot “catch your breath.”
  • Feelings of emptiness.  You may feel hallow inside.  It may be hard to concentrate or remember things.
  • Feeling out-of-control.  You may feel helpless, angry or frightened.

All of these feelings are normal.  Your whole world has changed.  You cannot bring the person back or change the situation.  It is natural to feel vulnerable.  Through information, we gain a sense of understanding.  Through understanding, we gain a sense of control.  Seek out information about grief.

Everyone grieves differently.  Our cultural and religious experiences, the circumstances of the death and our relationship with the person who died influence our reactions to grief.  If someone dies after a long illness, there may be a momentary sense of relief that the pain is over.  If a death is sudden and unexpected, shock and a feeling of numbness may occur.  If a young person dies there is a sense that things are out of order and that life is not the way it is supposed to be.

What You Can Do

Acknowledge and express your feelings.  Grief can be confusing.  Sadness, anger, fear and guilt are some of the most common emotions.  You may feel nothing at all or feel them all at the same time.  Do not be afraid of the intensity of your emotions.  Mood swings are normal.

Guilt can be one of the hardest emotions to deal with and it may last a long time.  Self blame and doubt add to the pain of grief.  This can make it difficult to share with others.  Talking about your feelings or keeping a journal often helps you gain perspective and insight.  There is no right or wrong feelings in grief, there are just your feelings.

Take Care of Yourself

Have compassion and take care of yourself.  Eat properly, get enough rest and exercise.  Grief causes tremendous stress on your body.  It affects even the strongest immune system.  You may catch more colds, experience headaches or muscle aches.  Taking care of yourself is more important now than ever before.  You might try some deep breathing exercises or relaxation techniques.  You can find relaxation tapes at a library or book store.

Take Control

It is important at this time to do things that can give you back some sense of control.  You will be faced with making many decisions regarding your future, both personal and financial.  Take time making major decisions.  Begin slowly.  Handle projects in small increments of time.  This will help build your confidence and prove that you are making progress.

Put the clothes away when you are ready.  Do not let others push you to make decisions you are uncomfortable making.

As you are getting your finances in order, get your other affairs in order too.  Change insurance beneficiaries.  Check your health and other insurance policies. Discuss your own funeral arrangements with your family and funeral director.  Taking care of life’s “paperwork” can help restore a sense of control and give you peace of mind.

Be Patient with Yourself

Grieving takes time.  It takes far longer than anyone expects, particularly you.  You really don’t ever get “over it” but you can get “through it”.  This loss is a part of your life.  Be assured, you will not always feel as you do right now.  Listen to yourself and go forward at your own pace.

Don’t be surprised when grief shows up again.  Just when you think you might be doing better, you may find yourself crying in the grocery or when you hear a song on the radio.  Anger and guilt can strike anywhere at any time.  Forgive yourself for living when your loved one did not.

Find Yourself

Grief has changed your life completely.  You cannot go back to being who you were.  You can learn to live with who you are now.  Most bereaved experience a change of perspective and discover that their priorities change.  Now is a time to take a personal inventory and reassess your beliefs and values.  You may find great comfort in your faith community as you look for meaning.  You will discover new strengths and talents.  Trust your heart.

Create New Routines and Rituals

Develop new routines and patterns as you search for the new you.  Acknowledge the empty chair and move it.  Rearrange your furniture and create a space just for you.  Exercise at a specific time each day.  Journal and make an entry daily.  Daily patterns will help you develop your new identity and find a new normal.

Find ways to remember the life of your loved one daily.  You do not have to say goodbye.  It is important to acknowledge the change in your relationship.  You do not stop loving someone just because they have died.  You can still maintain a relationship in your heart.  They are a part of who you are and who you are becoming.

Reach Out To Others

Reach out to others.  Learn to ask for what you need.  Your family and friends want to help, so let them know how.  Turn to people you can trust for support and for information.  Find people who will listen when you want to talk.  Leave the scrapbook or photo album out on the coffee table so others can remember and share memories with you.

You may want to talk to others who are grieving, consider joining a support group.  Most groups are listed by subject in the phone directory or through churches, newspapers, hospitals, local health and social service agencies, the Chamber of Commerce or your local funeral home.  You can learn and grow in common, yet different experiences. You do not have to travel this journey alone.  Life can have meaning again.