Understanding And Dealing With Grief And The Loss Of Life
By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D, Clinical, Medical & Family Psychologist
In our hearts, we all know that death is a part of life. In fact, death gives meaning to our existence because it reminds all of us that life is precious.
The loss of a life is lifes most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means "to be deprived by death."
When a death takes place, you may experience a wide range of emotions, even when the death is expected. Many people report feeling an initial stage of numbness after first learning of a death, but there is no real order to the grieving process.
Symptoms Of Grief and Loss
These feelings are normal and are common reactions to loss. You may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of your emotions or how swiftly your moods may change. You may even begin to doubt the stability of your mental health. It is important to be reassured that these feelings are healthy and appropriate. These feelings and expressions of powerful emotions help you come to terms with your loss.
Remember, it takes time to fully absorb the impact of a major loss. You never stop missing a friend or loved one, but the pain eases after time and this allows you to go on with your life.
Mourning A Loved One
It is not easy to cope after a loved one dies. You will mourn and grieve. Mourning is the natural process you go through to accept a major loss. Mourning may include religious traditions honoring the dead or gathering with friends and family to share your loss. Mourning is personal and may last months or years. Grieving is the outward expression of your loss. Grief is likely to be expressed both physically and psychologically. For instance, crying is a physical expression, while depression is a psychological expression.
It is very important to allow yourself to express your feelings. Often, death is a subject that is avoided, ignored or denied. At first it may seem helpful to separate yourself from the pain or ignore your feelings, but you cannot avoid grieving forever. Someday those buried feelings will need to be resolved or they may cause physical or emotional illness.
Many people report physical symptoms that accompany grief. Stomach pain, loss of appetite, intestinal upsets, sleep disturbances and loss of energy are all common symptoms of acute grief. Of all lifes stresses, mourning can seriously test your natural defense systems. Existing illnesses may worsen or new conditions may develop.
Profound emotional reactions may occur. These reactions include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression and thoughts of suicide. An obsession with the deceased is also a common reaction to death.
Dealing With A Major Loss
The death of a loved one or close friend is always difficult. Your reactions are influenced by the circumstances of a death, particularly when it is sudden or accidental. Your reactions also are influenced by your relationship with the person who died.
Living With Grief
Coping with death is vital to your mental health. It is only natural to experience grief when a loved one dies. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve. There are many ways to cope effectively with your pain.
Helping Others Grieve
If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help them through the grieving process.
Helping Children Grieve
Children who experience a major loss may grieve differently than adults. A parents death can be particularly difficult for small children, affecting their sense of security or survival. Often, they are confused about the changes they see taking place around them, particularly if well-meaning adults try to protect them from the truth or from their surviving parents display of grief.
Limited understanding and an inability to express feelings puts very young children at a special disadvantage. Young children may revert to earlier behaviors (such as bed-wetting), ask questions about the deceased that seem insensitive, invent games about dying or pretend that the death never happened. Coping with a childs grief puts added strain on a bereaved parent. However, angry outbursts or criticism only deepen a childs anxiety and delay recovery. Instead, talk honestly with children, in terms they can understand. Take extra time to talk with them about death and the person who has died. Help them work through their feelings and remember that they are looking to adults for suitable behavior.
Looking To The Future
Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.
Copyright 1998 to 2001, Michael G. Conner