Grief & Loss - What to expect & what to do

The experience of a loss brings unfamiliar and often painful emotions, even if it was expected. It can stir up feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty, anger, sadness, emptiness, numbness, helplessness, and despair. It requires us to reorganize our life, and our purpose. It creates a hole in our life, as we know it.

The death of a loved one is most often associated with the grieving/ bereavement process. Nonetheless, grief can follow many types of loss. Some examples include, loss of:​

  • A relationship (through separation, divorce or illness)

  • Health (including function of a body part)

  • Fertility

  • A pet

  • Possessions

  • Hopes/expectations

  • Freedom

  • Job (e.g. unemployment, retrenchment, retirement)​

It should be noted that each individual’s experience of grief/ bereavement differs. One’s personal grief experience should not be expected to parallel another person’s. Specifically, people do not grieve the same. Their feelings will differ, their expression of feelings will differ, their approach to life whilst they are grieving will differ, and the length of time they experience grief will differ

‘Symptoms’ often associated with grief/ bereavement

  • Shock/disbelief – This often occurs in the early stages of the grief process, and involves coming to acknowledge that the loss has really happened. ​

  • Sadness – Many other emotions are often associated with the experience of sadness, and what you experience in this regard may fluctuate.​

  • Guilt – Sometimes people can regret or feel guilty about things they did or did not say/do. It is also possible to experience guilt in relation to having certain thoughts/feelings about certain feelings (for example, being relieved when the person died). Something else that guilt can present in relation to is you not having done something to prevent the loss, even if such was not a realistic possibility.​

  • Anger – Even without someone being at fault for the loss, you may experience anger and resentment towards others and/or yourself and, at times, try to find someone to blame. ​

  • Fear – A significant loss can lead to the experience of worrying/ fearfulness. This may be associated with anxiety (including panic attacks), helplessness, and insecurity. Furthermore, in experiencing the loss of a loved one you may questions your own mortality, or that of others who you are close to. Knowing you will not have a particular person in your life any more, can lead you to think of the responsibilities you will now be faced with. ​

  • Physical symptoms – Whilst grief/ bereavement is a predominantly emotional process, in there being a significant connection between our mind and body, we can also experience physical problems. These can include fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains.

What should you do?

1. Express your emotions

After experiencing a loss, being provided with a safe space in which you can identify, explore and express your thoughts and emotions, is important. Such will assist you to make sense of, and move through, your experience. Whilst people oftentimes choose to embark on the journey of bereavement on their own, or with the support of friends or family members, a psychologist can provide a space for healing, and assist with the associated process.

Find a safe place to connect to, experience and express the emotions you are experiencing in response to your loss. Remember that no emotions are ‘wrong’, and when dealt with effectively (i.e. when emotions are not avoided), the pain you are experiencing will alleviate with time. You should not let anyone (including yourself) tell you how you should or should not feel.

2. Look after your physical health

Try to eat healthily, exercise in moderation and sleep regular hours. Avoid using drugs or alcohol (one is often drawn to use these in an attempt to escape the emotional pain, however, it adversely impacts on the grief process).

3. Remember

Remember that you can heal. This can be achieved though taking time to process

your loss. This does not mean you will stop loving or missing who/what you have lost. It means that your pain will subside, and your life will take a different form; you can influence what this form is. We need to come to nurture the form life takes without that something that once existed within it.

It is not possible to determine how much time it will take for you to heal. It differs from person-to-person. Do not set a time limit for yourself.

If you would like some support during the grieving process, book an appointment with one of our psychologists today.

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