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Coping with grief

Publish date: 17/10/2014

Coping with grief

Death is very much a part of our lives. Socially, discussion about death and dying is not encouraged and we generally tend to avoid the subject.

The loss of a loved one is never easy. It can be a deeply painful experience, and occur at a time in our lives that we’re often unprepared for.

Even when the death of a loved one is expected, it can be very painful to face, and can cause a variety of difficult emotions, at a time of great sadness.

Grief, sorrow and a painful sense of loss are a normal response when someone you care about passes away. Grief is both a personal and unique experience. As individuals we’ll all deal with death and the loss of a loved one in very different ways.

There are no set rules for how to react or manage the emotions felt. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and there’s no measure of time for this difficult process. People will find their own way of coping with such a loss.

What is grief / grieving / bereavement?

They are emotions we feel at a time of significant loss and are a natural response to the death of a loved one. These emotions can also be felt at other times, such as a relationship breakdown /divorce /significant injury i.e. paralysis/job loss through redundancy.

The intensity of grief is dependent on the circumstances and the loved one’s significance to you.

How you cope with loss and grief will depend on your life experience, personality, coping mechanism and, for some, their beliefs or faith.

It’s important to appreciate that in time you will be able to cope, and the pain of your loss, although not forgotten, will become easier to bear.

The grieving process

The process of grieving has been suggested to have several stages. As individuals we all react and cope in different ways, and in 1969 Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote about the emotional stages people go through when their loved ones die. These stages are still referred to and have been adapted more broadly over the years for use following a relationship breakdown and other loss and life changing events.

It is important to be aware that not everyone will go through all stages and if they do it may not be in the following order.

Denial – unable or unwilling to accept the reality of the current loss (or one which may shortly take place).
This will include feelings of shock, numbness or feeling as if you’re in a daze, disbelief that you will wake up and all will be “normal” again.

Anger – feeling the unfairness of it all. There may also be feelings of anger, either directed towards yourself or towards the person that has died. At this stage it can be common to feel physically and mentally exhausted and you may also experience anxiety, forgetfulness and struggle to concentrate.

All of these feelings are perfectly normal and this stage of grief shouldn’t be rushed. It’s necessary to go through this very difficult time and you shouldn’t feel pressurised to “move on” by concerned family and friends. You’ll do this in your own time, when you’re ready. People who don’t allow themselves to experience these painful feelings may suffer problems at a later time.

Bargaining – this may involve trying to reverse the loss, suggesting a change in behaviour or looking to a “higher power” depending on an individual’s beliefs.

Depression - this is the time people confront the loss and this may lead to crying, sleep disturbances and changes in eating habits. People may withdraw from normal routines or relationships, as they sort out their emotions in working through the loss.  It can be a time that people consider themselves the cause of the loss (whether justified or not) and work through those emotions.

Acceptance - once able to accept the loss can’t be undone and having experienced the grieving emotions, it’s time to adjust to a life in which the loved one is no longer with you. Re-engaging with your life could be getting used to living alone or developing new skills. For some it will involve building a new support network.

This doesn’t mean that you love the person that you have lost any less than you ever did, rather that you’re now also able to put your energies into other things and begin to feel “normal” again.

The grieving process has also been likened to that of a roller-coaster of unpredictable emotions and ups and downs that you may experience. There will be days that’ll be more difficult to cope with than others, and periods of time where the emotions you’re feeling are far less intense and you may feel less overwhelmed.

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