Grief at the passing of a loved one, a pet, or even the loss of a life circumstance, can be devastating at the best of times. Grief can even surround an event that happens to someone else where you have an emotional, ethical or values connection with that event. Such trauma brings with it a range of emotions from fear and depression to anger and resistance. Sometimes it is easier just to ignore the loss and try to get on with life – but such action is not wise.
Theories about the cause of grief and the best way to deal with it abound. Some will say that it is best left to take its own course. Others say that you should seek counseling from family or friends. Yet others will tell you to seek a professional counselor. In reality we are all individuals, unique in our own reactions to death and grief, and so we need to approach our recovery in our own way.
Grief occurs because it leaves us feeling vulnerable, afraid and sometimes empty. Suddenly we are faced with a change in the way we must deal with the world. We are faced with our own mortality, perhaps for the first time. We are faced with being left in this world without the self affirming contact with a soul we have become connected with. We are sometimes faced with the fear of having to do something on a daily basis we may never have had to think about before because that person did it for us. We are sometimes overcome by guilt because we perhaps did not say or do something we should have before they departed.
All of these reactions are normal. Even the wave of anger that sweeps across us from time to time is our minds way of dealing with the perceived desertion and disruption to our lives as a consequence of the loss.
The way we react, and the strength of the emotions is related to a number of factors in our lives. Death is stressful for most of us. There is no disputing that. I have worked with the dying and the bereaved for years and even that work is stressful at times, seeing the deep emotional trauma it creates. But even all that experience did not prepare me for the death of my father and seeing a body without life for the first time. So I can appreciate why death is so traumatic for most. But the stress involved in the death of a loved one can be made worse when there are underlying anxieties, especially when high daily stress levels have been in place for a long time. It is under these situations I would recommend that you seek professional assistance and guidance.
Grief can take a number of levels of seriousness:
- Normal grief will resolve itself over time. Those awful feelings of fear, desertion, emptiness and anger will slowly be replaced by new relationships and friendships, new methods of dealing with the days and nights. How long should it take? It will take as long as it takes, but even six to twelve months can be normal. It often depends on the degree of support you have from family and friends, and whether you can bring yourself to talk about it, and of course, allow yourself to cry.
- If the images of your loved one stay in your mind all the time with the raw emotions exposed for extended periods of time, perhaps you should now seek help. Elevated stress levels over long periods begin to take their toll on the body and mind and should be dealt with. It does not mean you are weak or defective. It just means your mind has certain values and ways of dealing with grief that it has not been given alternatives for.
It may seem strange to say this, but your unconscious mind thinks it is helping by doing these things for you. It does not understand it is doing you harm. And not wanting to let go because you think it is dishonoring your love for your loved one is a common reaction. But your mind must understand that your memories of that person can be kept clear and joyful, celebrating the life rather than filling them with pain.
You should also be aware here that sometimes grief is simply the “straw that broke the camels back” when it comes to producing emotional and physical symptoms. People who have been under stress for long periods of time before a bereavement often have a highly emotion charges memory system underlying the loss. This can cause biochemical imbalances that make depression worse and can cause massive mood swings. With the added load a bereavement can place on you, the effects can be very worrying, even to the point you think you are loosing your mind. If this is your situation get in touch with a stress management specialist immediately.
- A third level of grief sometimes occurs when a death is sudden and unexpected. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that often happens with people who are involved in or witness violence and death. It first became noticed with the return of soldiers from war zones where it still affects nearly 30% of people who are actually involved in combat.
The same occurs with serious accidents, terrorism or even natural disasters. It happens because our natural values and belief systems are assaulted so strongly that our mind does not know how to handle it and it generates huge emotional swings coupled with physiological effects. Its power can vary, and some people get through it over time just like normal grieving. But others struggle, sometimes for decades or a lifetime. This level of grief MUST be treated.
And so the story of grief is much too big for this short article. I can only suggest here that if you have lost a loved one, stay close to family and friends for a while, and don’t be afraid to show your grief and pain. Tears will help, as will reviewing the life that you loved so dearly.
If however you find yourself in a highly anxious state or the depression becomes unbearable, or you just don’t know how to handle the new day to day tasks that may have to be dealt with, seek out someone who understands your plight. Grief counselors and therapists can help. If your mind starts to play tricks on you or you start to have health problems see a health professional, preferable someone who specializes in stress and anxiety related issues.
There is always help and always someone you can talk to. If you think you would like to talk to our staff feel free to contact us.
And always remember that wonderful Irish saying, “May the sun always shine on your face, and the wind blow at your back!”