Grief is incredibly personal. We are unique beings and therefore each relationship we have is unique. Even though we may share similar emotions to others, there is no common order, and there are no stages or pattern to how we will experience them. If there are several of us grieving the loss of the same person, our grieving experience will be completely individual.
Whatever you feel when you experience your losses is right for you and it’s important to acknowledge these feelings.
How to deal with grief and loss
If you are grieving right now: grief affects us on every level: emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. We can no more control it than predict it. But it is much easier to bear your sadness if you aren’t also berating yourself for being sad. It is much easier to bear your sadness if you aren’t also berating yourself for being sad.
We live in a society that seeks easy and instant results to everything, so it’s important that we learn the benefits and beauty of patience, effort and perseverance when we experience our losses. Superglue won’t fix this. Only when we have to work hard for something do we gain a sense of moving forward and a feeling of achievement. Accepting that every area of our lives will have been impacted can take away the expectation to feel ‘normal’ again in record time. We need to take time to assimilate our losses and to feel the changes taking place within, to absorb the shock waves and, above all, to accept that whatever grief does to us, it’s our own personal journey.
Knowing that grief affects us on every level helps us to remember the impact of grief and allows us to let it be what it needs to be.
Don’t expect too much too soon – you are not a robot. Working through grief takes time, so focus on the process – the journey rather than the destination. Allow yourself the luxury of feeling your pain and grieving. Just as we laugh when we are happy, we need to allow ourselves to hurt through our losses. It’s only through allowing it to wash over us that we come through to the other side.
Be wary of short-term relievers
…such as alcohol, junk food or drugs.
Accept your feelings and acknowledge your pain
Whatever you are feeling is normal and right for you.
Rest when you need to and make sure you eat.
Talk about your loss with those you love
Find someone you can talk to and share with honesty.
Trust your instincts
Don’t let others railroad you into doing things you don’t feel ready for.
There will be times when you get caught up in the act of living in the present moment. Then you will remember again and will return to grieving. This is healthy and normal.
What if you feel you’re not coping?
Painful emotions that are withheld and not put into words can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. If we try to compartmentalise our grief into stages we think we should be following, we may question our instincts and then put ourselves in conflict with them. This is just exhausting. Instead, we have to learn to grieve with confidence. This means don’t question it, just let it come.
Some signs that you maybe aren’t coping well include:
- Withdrawing from your usual activities
- Experiencing moodiness
- Feelings of anger (which often stem from fear or sadness)
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Overreacting to a relatively small event
- Having trouble sleeping
- Lack of concentration
- A feeling of being disconnected
- Isolating from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or over-eating
- Drinking more than usual
Sometimes, just finding someone you can talk to without judgement, analysis or comment can be the best thing you can do. As we talk without being interrupted, we can find a starting point, a way of working things out for ourselves.
If, however, you find you’re struggling with your grief and feel you would benefit from further support, the Grief Recovery Method provides an excellent action program. Painful emotions that are withheld and not put into words can have a negative impact on us emotionally and physically.
Funeral Directors are also discovering the importance of grief support, so choose your funeral home wisely. They are one of the early caregivers following a death, so they have a very important role in your grief journey. Ask before you commit – who owns the business, what credentials do they have, are they the ones you feel comfortable sharing this experience with. Please do visit a couple of funeral homes before you commit. You’ll know if something feels right… and you’ll know if it doesn’t.
If you find yourself comforting someone who has suffered a loss, don’t jump in straightaway with your own experiences. Comparing our losses can minimise the importance of the other person’s feelings. The best thing you can do is just listen with an open heart and open ears. Let them know they can speak to you safely and confidentially. Feedback words to show you understand, but don’t offer an opinion.
Don’t be a selfish listener, who listens purely to reply. When someone is speaking form a place of pain, they aren’t having a conversation, they are making a statement. Putting the pain into words unravels some of the emotional chaos we experience after a loss. Allow the little silences between sentences for the release of words to work their magic. Listening is one of the most important things we can do. Afterwards, thank them for sharing.
If you want to offer practical help, don’t just say it – put your words into action. Don’t say, ‘Call me if you need me,’ because they won’t. Grievers can feel they are burdening others with their sadness. Instead, offer to do some shopping, cook a meal or do some housework, and commit yourself to doing that on a particular day and time. This is a huge help.
- Say anything that begins with, ‘At least …’
- Say ‘I know how you feel.’ Grief is incredibly personal. We do not know how someone else feels. At most, all we can do is remember how we felt in a similar situation. Allow them the privilege of their own grief.
- Offer platitudes, such as, ‘Time is a great healer’, ‘Be strong’, ‘You’ll meet someone else’ or ‘At least they aren’t suffering’. These just serve to make the griever feel misunderstood and more isolated in their pain.
- Try to change how they are feeling. Grief needs attention.
- Become a safe spot for the griever to share their emotions without interruption, just acceptance.
- Say, ‘I wish I had the right words, but I am here for you.’
- Say, ‘I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. Would you like tell me what happened?’
- Mention the name of the person who has died and share a favourite memory. It shows their life mattered.
- Reach out with phone calls and visits during holidays and anniversaries. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date, and the griever still needs to know you care and remember.
- Continue to offer your support months after the loss.
Written by Lianna Champ, an expert in grief counselling and funeral care, as well as author of How To Grieve Like A Champ, and published in Net Doctor June 2020.