Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of life’s biggest struggles. I was contacted recently by somebody who had been grieving for over a year and was wondering whether or not this was normal. Not only is it normal, the grieving process can affect us profoundly, in the way that we lead and view life. Let us better understand the impact that grief can have upon our mental health.
What are the phases of grief?
This is a common query that I receive. It is important to note here that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Generally speaking, there are five stages of grief that have been identified that many of us will experience during a process of loss. They are, in no particular order, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When we experience the death of a loved one, it is expected that our grief response will involve some or all of these stages.
What are the symptoms of complicated grief?
There will be various instances whereby we may find ourselves unable to move past the death of a loved one, to the extent that it is affecting our day to day lives. Some symptoms of complicated or unresolved grief include;
- Continued disbelief or numbness.
- Inability to accept that the death has occurred.
- Intense emotional anguish, anger and sorrow.
- Inability to reflect upon positive memories of the deceased.
- Feeling guilty or blaming of self for the death.
- Loss of identity or purpose, as well as trouble planning for the future.
- Feeling alone, becoming isolated or detached from others.
- Feeling a sense of emptiness, as if part of yourself has died along with the loved one.
- Experiencing severe depression.
Should you be experiencing any of the above, it may be worth considering grief counselling, in order for you to be supported through the healing process in a private and confidential setting. Do not hesitate to reach out for help.
What are the best ways to cope?
Aside from grief counselling, there are a number of things that you can try in order to heal.
Be patient: Do not pressure yourself or indeed allow others to pressure you to move on.
Extend a kindness to yourself. This is a time of pain and emotion. Breathe. Cry. Acknowledge
Talk about your loss: It is important that in time you are able to reflect upon the memories of your loved one. Whilst grieving, this may prove a difficult task. A common difficulty often expressed to me is that people feel pressured to stop talking about the deceased too soon.
Remember that it is okay to express your sadness. It may prove beneficial to confide in somebody that has lost someone themselves, therefore can appreciate the complexity of your emotions. If it is your wish to talk about your loved one, do so. The love and connection that you shared was a gift. Arguably the most beautiful gift that you could ever hope to receive. You have every right to honour and remember it as such.
Try to maintain a normal daily routine: This is easier said than done. But do try to sleep as per your normal hours and to eat at your usual meal times. Anything that you are able to do that encourages a sense of stability and security at this time can only help you during your grieving process.
Take care of yourself: Eat well, drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and drugs. Exercise if you can, as it is a wonderful way to ease the depth of emotional pain and distress you may well be experiencing. Partaking in creative tasks if you feel up to it, such as writing, painting or drawing may also prove beneficial. There is no pressure for you to create masterpieces here! The point being, such tasks will allow you an outlet of expression, particularly if you find that you do not have the voice to vocally express your emotions.
Forgive yourself: By that I mean for all of the guilt that you may have stowed up inside of you. Forgive yourself for all of the things that you didn’t say or do when your loved one was alive. Extending this compassion to yourself is a necessary and vital part of the healing process.
Seek support: Do not hesitate to reach out if you feel like your grief is swallowing you whole. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms that feel concerning, visit your doctor, confide in a friend or a family member. Do not suffer alone.
It is a tricky business, this process of grief. Healing from the emotional pain and adjusting to a life without our loved one takes time and support. It is important to remember that we all grieve in our own unique way. There simply is no time span. For some it may take months, for others, it may take years. Grief is a journey that we must make at our own pace, one day at a time.
Wishing you strength,