Loss and Grief: Dealing with Death.

Loss and grief occurs in all societies (5) and the loss of a loved one, close friend or relative is a loss that everyone will experience at some stage during their life time. It is important to recognise that grief is a normal reaction to a painful loss (10; 11). It is not an illness, yet can touch all aspects of the person’s life (10).

Understanding the Grieving Process and the death of a loved one, close family or friend is always a difficult experience to handle (1). It is often seen as one of life’s most stressful events which bring about a variety of emotions and feelings within your life. Your responses and reactions to the death can be influenced by factors such as your relationship with the dead person, as well as the circumstances behind the death such as whether or not the death was accidental or anticipated (1).

It is a natural reaction for you to grieve the loss of a loved one. In fact “grieving is the outward expression of your loss (1, p.1)”. The grieving person will usually express their grief mainly through physical and psychological methods. For instance crying is a physical reaction to loss and grief, while depressive and aggressive feelings are psychological (1). Grief can affect you not only on an emotional level, but also it can affect you socially, physically, behaviourally (3) and spiritually. Therefore we must learn to recognise our grief as a positive move forward towards working through the huge range of affects and emotions effecting us and progress towards regaining new meaning within our lives.

“What matters above all is the attitude in which we take our suffering upon ourselves” (6, p.114).

Why do we grieve?

Grief is the manner in which we react to and respond towards a significant change or loss within our lives (2). It is our reaction to a loss (1). It is a very powerful emotion and everyone’s experience with it differs. The grieving process provides us with the ability to work through and gradually adjust to the significant changes or loss we have experienced (2).

It is very important to allow yourself to grieve and express your feelings (1). At first you may wish to avoid the hurtful and confrontational pain and discomfort associated with your bereavement, but you cannot avoid the grieving process forever (1). One day the feelings that you have tried to bury will resurface and you will have to find ways to work through these feelings and resolve them, avoiding the need to work through your grief now could bring about physical and emotional illnesses and issues in later life (1).

Ways to grieve

It is important to understand that there is no single way of grieving (12) and no right or wrong way to do it. Each of us is an individual and the manner in which we live and grieve is unique to ourselves. So just like we are full of complexity, so is the way we grieve. There are a number of stages that we encounter as we grieve, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (13). However there is no particular order that we must follow or progress through the stages as we grieve, we can, and very often do revisit many of the stages more than once (14) as we grieve and try to come to terms with our loss.

It is vital that we recognise the need to grief and take the time to allow ourselves to express our feelings (1). We must not avoid talking about death or the person who has died, as if the loss has never occurred as this leads to avoidance and denial, causing further emotional and psychological issues, rather than the ability to accept the loss in order to bring new meaning to one’s life; and therefore be able to eventually more on. To grieve the loss of a loved one and move forward we do not need to forget them, we just need to find new ways to remember and cherish their memories (1).

Symptoms of Grief.

When grieving many people report experiencing physical symptoms such as increased sleep disturbances, intestinal upsets, loss of appetite and loss of energy (1). Other profound emotional reactions they may experience include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts (1).These are all a normal reaction to the distress caused following the death and loss of a loved one (4). Other symptoms of grief include sadness, loneliness, anger, confusion, loss, guilt, relief (7) denial and despair (1).

Sadness You may feel a real sorrow and unhappiness towards your loss. You may feel overwhelmed at times and unable to cope with this most stressful time in your life. You may be afraid you will never laugh again (7).

Loneliness You may feel a sense of loneliness, which is very often a common side effect of losing a close partner or friend. You may experience feelings of emptiness, a deep sense of isolation of being on your own.

Anger You may experience anger as this is a likely response to death and often we reveal our anger in a variety of ways. You may feel angry towards the person who has died because they have gone and left you. You may feel anger towards the doctors or others around you for not supporting you like you thought they should. You may even be angry at your god or higher being for allowing the death to occur (7).

Denial You may refuse to accept the loss or deny why or how it has occurred.

Despair You may feel a sense of despair and hopelessness towards the loss and the new challenges that face you.

Confusion You may experience confusion, which is an expected reaction to death. Grief is one of the prime causes of stress. You may experience some confusion, memory loss and inability to concentrate. It is important for you to understand that this is temporary and you are not losing your mind (7).

Guilt Guilt is an emotion that almost all who experience a death go through. You may begin to wonder what you might have done differently. It is normal to feel guilty and often those feelings might be justified, however you must recognise that most often our feelings of guilt are not justified, as most of us did the best we could at the time.

Lost When someone dies we often experience not only the loss of the loved one, but the loss of our dreams for the future. You may feel completely lost. These feelings of loss are often accompanied by those emotions of intense anxiety, meaninglessness and despair as one tries to come to terms with what the future holds.

Reliefyou may be experiencing feelings of relief, especially so if the death has followed a long illness, as you will probably be relieved that the dying is all over and the loved no is no longer suffering. This is a customary response and there is no need for you to feel guilty about this (7).
“These symptoms are what we call normal or healthy symptoms of grief. In other words, if you are experiencing any of them, you are perfectly normal – and you aren’t going crazy! (7)”.

Steps to overcoming your Grief.

We cannot choose or control what life serves up to us. We can choose what to do with the experience from now on (2, p.2).”

Overcoming Grief is not easy. It will take time and require you to work through the grieving process in order to positively address your grieving issues.

It is important to recognise the experience of grief. This may not remove your pain, but it can increase your understanding of what is happening and why you are feeling the range of emotions and responses you are experiencing (2).

Ways to help yourself.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help (9). If you need to talk, find a good listener (2).
  • Live one day at a time
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Don’t expect too much from yourself
  • Know yourself and do what is right for you. You may want to keep busy or withdrawn for a while.
  • Understand that grief takes time.
  • Accept emotional support from others
  • Expressing your emotions is healthy for you (9) so express as much grief as you feel necessary.
  • Don’t try to avoid your grief, work through it
  • Accept the fact that no amount of wishful thinking can bring back your loved one (8).
  • “Expect your recovery to follow a pattern of two steps forward and one step backward (8)”.
  • Make an effort to adjust to change
  • Set goals for yourself to ensure that your life has a meaning and purpose (9).
  • Don’t try to keep things the same, try to build new meaning in your life
  • Above all remember that grieving is an important part of the healing process in adjusting to your loss (9).

Community Support

Support is available in most communities

You can access grief support from a variety of community services and organisations such as

  • Hospitals and community health centres
  • Palliative care agencies
  • Volunteer groups
  • Church and religious organisations.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Community health centre
  • Counsellor or social worker

Further Information

Bereavement Care Centre

Website: www.bereavementcare.com.au

Bereavement counselling Services
Website: www.grief.org.au/couns.html

Chessed Jewish Bereavement Counselling Services
Website: http://www.join.org.au/chessed/

GriefLink
Website: www.grieflink.asn.au

NALAG (Victoria) Inc
Website: www.nalagvic.org.au
Email: info@nalagvic.org.au

References:

(1) Conner, M, G., 2001. Understanding and dealing with Grief and loss of life. [web site] http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/GriefLoss.htm Date Accessed: 20th June 2005.
(2) Palliative Care Victoria, 2005. Grief Understanding and coping with loss. Palliative Care Victoria.
(3) Grief Watch, 2003. Grief facts: Symptoms of Grief. [web site] http://www.griefwatch.com/info/symptoms_of_grief.htm Date Accessed: 21St June 2005.
(4) John S Ogrodniczuk, J. S., Piper, W. E., Joyce, A. S., Weideman, R., McCallum, M., Azim, H. F., Rosie, J. S., 2002. Differentiating Symptoms of Complicated Grief and Depression Among Psychiatric Outpatients. [web site] http://www.cpa-apc.org/Publications/Archives/CJP/2003/march/ogrodniczuk.asp Date Accessed: 24th June 2005.
(5) Raphael, B., 2000. Grief and loss in Australia, In Death and Dying in Australia, A Kellehear(ed.), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 116-129.
(6) Frankl, V., 1976. Basic concepts of logotheraphy, Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotheraphy, Hodderand Stoughton, London, pp.97-136.
(7) Saynor, J. K., 2005. Growing through Grief: The symptoms of Grief. [web site] http://www.generations.on.ca/grief-symptoms.html Date Accessed: 23rd June 2005.
(8) Bereavement Association, n.d. Suggestions for overcoming Grief. [web site] http://www.hccsj.nf.ca/basj/art_29.html Date Accessed 10 July 2005.
(9) Grieflink.asn.au, 2004. Grief reactions associated with Carers. [web site] http://www.grieflink.asn.au/carers.htm Date Assessed: 10th July 2005.
(10) Carers Victoria, 2004. Loss and Grief. [web site] http://www.carersvic.org.au/Programs%20and%20Services/Grief%20and%20Loss.htm Date Accessed: 15th June 2005.
(11) Carers Victoria, 2004b. Carers Victoria Education and Training Programs; Loss and Grief. Carers Victoria.
(12) Members.iinet.net.au, n.d. A family guide to living with muscular Dystrophy and Motor Neurone Disease: Mapping the Journey. Fact sheet for Carers Grief and Loss. [web site] http://members.iinet.net.au/~eadej3/griefandlossm.html Date Accessed: 11th July 2005.
(13) Bear, J., 2004. Stages of Grief. [web site] http://www.cancersurvivors.org/Coping/end%20term/stages.htm Date Accessed: 2nd July 2005.
(14) Mintle, L.S., 2005. Physical and Emotional Grief Reactions. [web site] http://www.christianity.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID4820%7CCHID103349%7CCIID836254,00.html Date Accessed: 19th June 2005.

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