Grief and Grieving

The death of a loved one can be heartbreaking, leaving you wondering how life can move on without him or her. Most people experience grief at some point in their lives, whether it’s the loss of a family member, friend or colleague. Grief can even occur when a person experiences a trauma that has changed his or life, such as losing a job, getting a divorce or retiring. While everyone grieves differently, there are some commonalities that occur. Read on to learn more.

What is Grief?

Grief is your emotional reaction to a significant loss, such as the death of a beloved person or animal or the loss of a way of life such as a job, marriage, or good health. The grieving process is a time to reflect on the loss and find ways to continue on with life. Grieving isn’t a brief time of pain or sadness, but the entire emotional process of coping with a loss, which can last a long time.[1,2]

What are the Stages of Grief?

The following stages of grief are commonly experienced after a loss. However, each person’s grieving process is unique, and people may not experience all of the stages below or may experience them in a different order than listed.[3]

Shock

Some people might be in denial after a loss and don’t express emotions or cry while others may never go through a prolonged stage of shock and are able to express their emotions right away.

Emotional Release

Whether it’s immediately after a loss or later on, at some point a person begins to feel hurt by the loss of a loved one. Expressing feelings is important to the grieving process because suppressed feelings often surface at a later time in unhealthy ways.

Preoccupation with the Deceased or the Crisis

A grieving person may have difficulty thinking about other things besides the deceased person, but eventually, this should pass.

Hostile Reactions

Some people may respond angrily to situations that previously wouldn’t have bothered them. For instance, they may direct anger toward medical professionals, God, and even the loved one who died. It’s also common for grieving people to have feelings of hurt or hostility toward family members who aren’t providing the emotional support they expect.

Guilt

While a person is grieving, there is almost always feelings of guilt related to things the person feels they could have done, but didn’t. Guilt eventually passes with time.

Depression

Feelings of total despair and unbearable loneliness and hopelessness are felt by many people who are grieving. For people who live alone or who don’t have much family, the feelings may be more intense. These feelings should eventually pass with time.

Withdrawal

A grieving person might withdraw from social relationships and waver from their daily routines.

Resolution and Readjustment

Eventually a grieving person begins to heal gradually and get on with life once he or she experiences deep emotion and accepts it.

Is Grief Ongoing?

Even years after the death of a loved one, people might continue to feel sadness when reminders of their loved one arise. Referred to as “anniversary reactions,” these reminders can be triggered by holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, as well as sights, sounds and smells, and can last for days or longer. Anniversary reactions can also bring back memories of the feelings and events surrounding a loved one’s death. During an anniversary reaction, one might experience the following:[1]

  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Pain

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Grieving?

While no one grieves the same, there is a point during everyone’s grieving process when the feelings of loss are most intense and painful, which can last for weeks to months. During this time, the person may experience some or all of the following physical and emotional distresses:[2,3]

Physical distresses

  • Sleeplessness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • A choking feeling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Deep sighing
  • An empty hollow feeling in the stomach
  • Tiredness or weakness and lack of muscular power
  • Digestive symptoms and poor appetite
  • Withdraw socially
  • Trouble thinking and concentrating
  • Restless and anxious at times
  • Dream of the deceased (or even have hallucinations or “visions” in which they briefly hear or see the deceased)

Emotional alternations

  • Feel depressed
  • Look sad
  • A slight sense of unreality
  • Feelings that no one really cares or understands what they’re going through
  • Sometimes people appear shadowy or very small
  • Feelings of panic, thoughts of self-destruction, or the desire to run away
  • Preoccupation with death or events surrounding death
  • Search for reasons for the loss
  • Dwell on mistakes, real or imagined, that he or she made with the deceased
  • Feel guilty for the loss
  • Express anger or envy at seeing others with their loved ones

Can I get Help with the Grieving Process?

Bereavement counseling can help reduce the level of distress that one experiences after the death of a loved one and can help a person adjust to life without the deceased. This type of counseling includes a broad range of transition services, including outreach, counseling and referral services to family members, and is often available through hospice services or by referral from a doctor, nurse or social worker.[2,4]

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. Grief: Coping with reminders after a loss. Retrieved August 12, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/grief/MH00036.
  2. American Cancer Society. Grief, mourning and bereavement. Retrieved August 12, 2013, from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/griefandloss/coping-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one-intro-to-grief-mourning-bereavement.
  3. Center for Grief and Healing. The Stages of Grief. [PDF] Retrieved August 12, 2013, from http://www.hns.org/Portals/1/Stages%20of%20Grief.pdf.
  4. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Bereavement Counseling. Accessed August 16, 2013, from http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/Bereavement_Counseling.asp.

By C. J. Newton, MA, Counseling.info Editor

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