Grief is a reaction to experiencing the death of someone that is important to us and will happen to everyone at some point during our lives. Grief is experienced individually and the way we deal with it may not be the same as our family members or friends. It may be that as well as grieving for the death of the person we are also grieving for the relationship that is lost. If our relationship with the person was complicated this may be reflected in how we feel following their death and thinking about the relationship we would have liked to have had. Whatever the situation, grief is real and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
What Does Grief Look Like?
For many of us the death of someone close brings about irrevocable change in our lives. We may feel an overwhelming sadness characterised by open expressions of emotions such as crying or we may be unable to cry because we are in shock or feel numb. Feeling numb is a natural reaction and may help us to process what has happened at our own pace and prevent us from being totally overwhelmed in the short term.
Grief can be lonely and isolating. To avoid becoming stuck in our grief we need to find ways to mourn such as: talking to family and friends and finding ways to support each other in grief, reading, listening to music, through humour, sharing funny stories about the person or remembering things they used to say. We should not feel guilty about laughing because humour is a normal coping mechanism.
Feeling guilt about the death and asking ourselves if we could have done something more or something different that would have changed the situation is not unusual. We may equally feel angry at the person who has died for leaving us behind or jealous of others who still seem to carry on with their lives as though nothing has changed. We might feel thankful this person was in our life or fearful that in time we might not remember them so clearly.
Grief can cause intense physical symptoms which can be worrying. These can include:
- Lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Difficulty sleeping or having nightmares or dreams about the person who has died
- Sleeping more and finding it hard to stay awake during the day
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Breathlessness or feeling panicked, dizzy, faint, or sick
Experiencing one or more of these symptoms is not unusual. If they persist you should consider seeking help from your doctor who will be able to offer support.
How Long Does Grief Last?
There is no set time or limit on how long grief lasts and there are no neatly defined stages of grief whereby we complete one and move to the next. Grief can be difficult and in the first few weeks and months it can be overwhelming and all-encompassing. For some this intensity lessens as we adapt to life without the person and learn to manage grief.
“…I always think of it like an onion… the loss is in the middle but there are layers that come up around it and then life just goes on around the layers but it’s still inside…”
In time the pain resulting from grief may become less acute, and new experiences or relationships may help temper this. However, there are always triggers that rekindle feelings, emotions and sadness, whether this be a birthday, anniversary or hearing a particular song. Nevertheless, these may also be reminders which bring a sense of comfort as we learn to live with our grief.
Supporting Each Other
As this resource is aimed at finding ways for families and friends to support each other in their grief we offer some suggestions that might help do this:
- Keep in touch regularly, whether through a visit or a phone call. If you’re in regular contact you’re in a good place to see how they are coping, and they may be able to support you too. In the midst of grieving people may not have the energy to ask for the support they want.
- Practical support can be helpful such as shopping together or planning meals which may also provide opportunities to talk.
- Be aware of signs of grief that suggest others may not be coping, so that you can suggest seeking further support.
- Don’t avoid talking for fear of distressing each other – it’s helpful to express emotions together. But sometimes it is about just listening and not necessarily saying anything.
- You may fear saying the wrong thing but it is worth taking the risk. Be brave it’s the thought behind the intention that matters.
- Sometimes telling our story repeatedly helps make sense of things as we search for meaning.
- As well as remembering the person you have lost, try to look forward to things you can enjoy in the future.
- Be prepared to support each other for the long haul, acknowledge some people may still be grieving years later.
- We all grieve differently, so try to avoid comparing your grief with others.
- Do your best to support each other through milestones, remember special dates like holidays or anniversaries with a phone call or a get together to reminisce.
- Consider small gifts or gestures that you could give others to help them through particularly bad days.