Sadly, grief is something we will all face at some point in our lives. Grief can be caused by the death of someone we love, or by other circumstances such as losing a job, losing a pet, the deterioration of our health, moving house, or a relationship ending, the effects are very similar.
When we are already coping with depression, the added pressure of dealing with such a loss can seem too much to bear. We are going to look at the way we cope with grief and give you some tools to help you through.
Everyone’s response to grief will be different, however, there are many common experiences we share when we lose someone close to us. These can include:
Feelings of failure
Weight loss or gain
Loss of appetite or overeating
Difficulty making decisions
The first thing you need to realise is that all these symptoms, and others, are normal. There is no ‘right way’ or indeed ‘wrong way’ to cope with grief. Your body has received a big shock and many of the reactions, particularly the physical ones, are our bodies’ natural fight or flight reflex kicking in.
By knowing that these reactions are normal and that they will pass, it can make it easier to cope with the process. It will be painful, and nothing we can do or say can take that away. Life will forever be changed. However, you will, in time, learn to accept your new normal and the pain will ease.
There are many models used to help explain the stages of grief we go through – the Kübler-Ross model is the most commonly used and can be helpful to look into so you understand why you are feeling the way you are.
Be Kind to Yourself
It is important that you are kind to yourself during this process, as at all times in life. Give yourself time and don’t expect to feel better quickly – if your body had experienced a major trauma, such as a car accident, you would expect it to take time to heal. The mind is no different and grief is a major traumatic event.
Allow yourself to feel the sadness, the shock, the anger, the loneliness – by accepting these feelings you are giving yourself permission to grieve and the feelings cannot build up inside you. This can help alleviate some of the physical symptoms as the fight or flight response begins to disperse. Talk to people about how you are feeling, scream or shout if you need to, cry. Remind yourself always that this is normal, and in time, this will pass. Don’t feel you have to ‘be strong’ and ‘move on’ in a set time – your grief is your own and you will experience it differently to others. That is okay!
We often have regrets when we lose someone close to us – we should’ve spent more time with them, there was something we should, or shouldn’t, have said. We can also feel guilty over our reactions to death – we may feel relief that someone who has been in pain has died and is no longer suffering for example. We can feel guilty for not crying or not being ‘sad enough’, for having moments of joy and laughter. These feelings are part of the process of grief and we need to accept them and talk about them to be able to forgive ourselves. We cannot change the past but by accepting these feelings as a normal stage of grief we are able to move forward.
Routine is important. When we experience grief we can close down. We will stop doing the things we normally do. This is absolutely okay. We need time to recover. However, it is important to keep some sort of routine. Try to eat at regular times (set alarms to help yourself remember). Go to bed and get up at normal times, even if you are struggling to sleep. Try to see other people and get outside at least once a day, even if it just to sit in your garden.
Let others in
Allow others to help you. When you lose someone close to you people will offer you help. Use this. You can ask people to come and keep you company, cook meals for you, do your shopping, help with cleaning, walk your dog, the list is endless. Often people want to help but don’t know how to – reach out to people if you need to. Be specific: if you need help with a particular chore, ask.
Sometimes you need to do something tangible to help explore your feelings. Write a journal or a letter to your loved ones telling them the things you want to say to them. Create a collage or photo album. Paint or draw the person or something that was important to them. As you move through the grief process you may want to get involved in a charity or cause that was important to them as a way of keeping the connection alive. However saying that, if a loved one has died from Cancer, for example, it is also okay not to want to have anything further to do with it as the memories might be too painful. Wanting to move on is perfectly normal.
Prepare for triggers
Even when we have processed our grief and are living our new normal, things can happen to trigger those feelings and reactions again. Often birthdays, anniversaries and milestones can make the initial grief feel raw again. Make plans for those days, try not to spend them alone. Do something to celebrate the person you have lost. Accept that these days and the days surrounding them will be hard and know that this too shall pass. Again, not wanting to mark the day is also normal, grief is a very personal emotion and it’s important to do what is right for you, however, do try not to be alone at these times.
Remember healing your grief does not mean forgetting your loved one. They will always be there. Many grief counsellors use the metaphor of dropping a pebble into a pond – when you first experience grief the ripples are strong and close together, as the weeks and months pass the ripples get wider apart but the emotions are still felt strongly. Even when the surface is calm, the pebble is still in the pond, the pond forever changed from how it once was. This becomes your new normal. You will always miss them but the old adage of time being a healer is true. In time we do learn to move forward with our own lives.
What if it gets too much?
The stages we all go through are normal and the only way through them is to experience them. For some people this will take longer than others and that is normal too. Finding a support group can help you to speak to others who understand your feelings and to realise you are not alone.
Very rarely we can get stuck in the cycle of grief and need help to come through it. If the feelings of numbness, sadness, anger, etc don’t begin to ease over time or increase in intensity it is worth speaking to your GP or contacting a grief counsellor to help you through these feelings.
You should speak to someone if;
You have regular, intense, feelings that you should have died as well as/instead of your loved one.
Blaming yourself repeatedly and not able to rationalise your feelings
Feeling numb or disconnected for more than a few weeks
Turning to drink or drugs to cope
Feel unable to perform your usual activities
Remember that many counsellors often recommend that at least six months passes between bereavement and seeking a ‘talking therapy’ as crying and sadness are perfectly normal and necessary reactions, although there isn’t a hard and fast rule. Talking therapies won’t make you not miss someone, but may help you to process and clarify emotions and help you to ‘function’ in ways that are more helpful. However you know your own feelings and if you are struggling to cope, especially with a prior history of depression, it is always worth checking in with your GP, so they can gauge how you are managing.
Losing a loved one is hard, it is meant to be hard and nobody will be able to take that away for you. You will cry, you will mourn, you will shout and scream – but slowly you will find the tears fall less frequently, that more and more often you can smile at a happy memory, laugh at a joke you once shared, and the pain, although still there, will be lessened. Until you get to that stage, when you start to see the light and know that it will be okay, remind yourselves that your reactions are normal. Until then, at this time in your life more than ever, keep practicing your self-care and know that you are not alone.
Places to turn
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