How Grief Impacts Us – Common Aspects Of Grieving
Whether the death of a loved one is unexpected or anticipated an understanding of some common aspects of grieving can be helpful as you experience a range of emotions and try to make sense of the loss you have experienced.
Seeking the support of family or friends and taking care of yourself during this difficult phase of life can be a helpful strategy. Counseling can be another beneficial strategy to aid your grief journey.
Shock and Disbelief
The first common aspects of grieving can occur when you first hear about the death of someone close to you the initial reaction may be a sense of shock and disbelief. You might find it hard to think clearly and need to hear the news repeated to allow the reality to set in. It’s too hard to accept and so to deny the reality of the situation is a common response. It enables you to cope with overwhelming emotions. This is a defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. It is a temporary response that holds you through the initial period of pain.
Sometimes there is a complete denial that the loss has occurred. It might feel like you are on ‘auto-pilot’, and later you might not be able to remember specific details of what you did immediately after you heard about the death.
Pain and Guilt
Initial shock is often replaced with unbelievable pain. Acute mourning begins with the acknowledgement and acceptance that the loss has occurred. You wonder how you will ever bear the truth that someone you loved has died. You might have feelings of guilt about your relationship with your loved one, or be remorseful about missed opportunities. You may find yourself focussing on difficulties in the relationship and find yourself considering what you should have done or should not have done. These thoughts might cause great anguish and despair, and you wonder how you will ever get through the pain and distress.
Feelings of anger are commonly experienced, and you may become angry and upset with family and friends, medical staff, or other people who are also experiencing the loss. You may feel enraged at the world and the injustice you feel. You may feel anger towards the person who has died or resentful of the pain they have caused. If you have had a difficult relationship with the person who has died you may be ambivalent about their death, or feel enraged that they have left you with painful memories or unresolved conflicts. Then you might feel guilty for being angry.
Common aspects of grieving include feelings of helplessness and vulnerability are common, and a natural response is to try to regain control. You might find yourself focussing on what could have been done differently. If only certain things had happened the death might have been avoided.
Fear and anxiety
The physical loss of the person who has died can instill a fear of being alone or in particular situations without them present. There may be a fear about passing the hospital or the place where the death occurred. Some fear that they might never feel any different and can’t imagine how they might experience joy or pleasure again.
Anxiety can impact a grieving person in a variety of ways. An immediate response may be concern about what has happened to their loved one and existential and spiritual questions may become important. Is there an after life? Is there a God? How could this happen? Will I see my loved one again? Conflicting emotions of anger, resentment, peace or hopefulness may be confusing.
There may be anxiety about how you are going to manage life without the one who has died and the practical implications of the loss may seem insurmountable. There may be an anxiety about forgetting the one who has died, not being able to recall their smile or the sound of their voice.
Depression, reflection, loneliness
When denial can no longer be maintained and the reality and finality of loss is evident, depression may result. Depression amplifies the range of emotions experienced resulting in a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. A general flat mood pervades all of life and leaves one feeling hollow, empty and alone. Withdrawal, isolation, and fatigue are common symptoms. Perhaps you might not be able to see joy or hope anywhere in your life and feel like life is not worth living.
The distinction needs to be made between normal depression of grieving and other forms of depression. Your GP or other health professionals are a valuable resource to help you through this.
Resolving the loss and acceptance
Being able to accept the reality of the death and letting it be is not the same as forgetting the person. Rather it is like constructing a different ‘frame’ for the person, finding a way you can comfortably live with the memories and essence of the one who has died. This requires psychological reintegration.
An important task in the grief journey is learning to find a way of living with the void created by the absence of the person, to redefine who you are without the presence of the one who has died. This requires some acceptance of the loss and finding ways of managing without their physical presence in your daily living. This is usually a gradual process, with a return to activities of daily living and reduction in preoccupation with thinking about the person who has died. Part of this process is moving between memories of the person who has died, both good and bad. Recurring thoughts and reminiscing about them is a normal part of dealing with the reality of the loss. Over time, this preoccupation will gradually lessen as you adjust to a new reality of life without them.
Grief turns your world upside down and you need to find a way of learning to live in that world that is forever changed. There is no time frame on grief, but sometimes you may become concerned about yourself or how someone you know seems to be struggling with their grief. Perhaps their grief seems too severe. Perhaps it seems prolonged. Maybe you notice other changes in behaviour or emotional responses that seem to be out of character.
There are some indicators that may alert you to a difficult grief response. These may include the following:
- Suicidal thoughts and intention
- Severe and ongoing emotional distress
- Severe mental disorganization
- Withdrawal from usual social or work activities
- Self-destructive behaviours
- Deep feelings of guilt, regret, self-worth
- Violent outbursts of rage
- Symptoms that imitate those of the person who died
If you become concerned about yourself or someone else seek the support of your GP or a qualified mental health professional who is familiar with grief.
There is no time frame for finding a way to accept and deal with the reality of your loss. Everyone has their own experience of grief and although there are common aspects of grieving, you are unique in how you are impacted by the loss of the one who has died. You may feel like you are through the worst of the pain and then be unexpectedly surprised by another deeply painful memory that impacts you. This is the nature of grief and the cost of connection.
If you are looking for support through a difficult loss or more information on grief and loss contact me to make an appointment.