You may have heard the adage “life is change”. We experience change on a regular, ongoing basis. Sometimes however, change is accompanied by grief. Whether it is the loss of a spouse, a marriage, a child, a parent, or even a good job, everybody has experienced loss and the grief that often results. Grief can go deep and remain for a very long time.
Grief is a normal reaction to loss, or the sudden change in our experience of “normal” in our lives. These changes can range from the loss of a known routine, to a move to a different culture, to taking on new and unfamiliar roles.
Grief often results because we don’t see how we will “get by” in the future. For instance, a happily married couple looks forward to a long life spent together. But if death comes “sooner than expected,” the surviving spouse faces the possibility of a life spent alone. Sometimes grief comes after a lengthy period of illness, and we have had some time to prepare ourselves. In the therapy world we often call this “anticipatory grief”. Other times, grief comes in a very unexpected manner, as if we were hit by “a bolt from the blue”. Each type of grief has its own characteristics and features.
The effects of grief can be numerous and sometimes mysterious. The emotional reactions often range from shock, anger, denial, guilt, anxiety, and depression. “I can’t believe this happened!” “That’s not fair!” “I should have done more.” “I can’t go on.” While many people go through these reactions without difficulty, others find the journey to be more difficult. Everyone experiences grief and loss in their own way. There simply is no “one way” to grieve.
Physical reactions are also common. Some people experience a rapid heart rate, while others have shortness of breath, headaches and body aches, or a loss or increase of appetite. At times people may feel like they have caught a virus. Having these physical symptoms is simply a reminder of the mysterious integration of our minds, bodies, and souls!
There may also be alterations in a person’s behavior. Some people avoid the subject of death altogether. Others may experience poor concentration and memory, even intrusive thoughts about the loss they have experienced. In some cases, people may become very aware of, or have a heightened sense of their surroundings, experiencing an increased feeling of fear or hyper-vigilance. At times this may involve the person avoiding putting themselves in “dangerous” or vulnerable situations.
There are some important things to consider in the journey of healing from loss. Many people find it very helpful to confide in a trusted individual. Telling the story of the loss can be very helpful. Sometimes we need to tell the story multiple times. It is important for many people to openly express their feelings, often through crying. If there was any business left unfinished with the individual who has died, coming to some resolution is helpful. Therapy with a trained individual can be very helpful.
Recovery from loss is a process. For some, grief groups can provide an opportunity to share grief with others who have experienced similar loss. For others, it is helpful to find individual counseling with a qualified professional. It is important to know that this is an experience that you do not have to go through alone.