Grief or bereavement is a natural human response to a significant loss. Most people experience bereavement after the death of a loved one, but it is also possible to experience grief in response to other losses such as a divorce or a romantic breakup, , the loss of your health, home, or job.
Bereavement is usually thought of as the emotional suffering we feel after such a loss, and the emotional ‘roller coaster’ one may experience while grieving is difficult, confusing and exhausting. . Depression and anxiety are frequently experienced, but grief is more complex than just the emotional response.
It also affects us spiritually, physically, cognitively, behaviorally, and socially. The important thing to keep in mind while you are grieving is that, while it may feel unbearable and disorienting at first, grief is actually a healing process of which time is a necessary factor.
Everyone experiences grief differently and the variation in response is vast. Some of the more common responses include; nightmares, feeling empty or numb, feeling deep sadness, guilt, regret or anger. One may have a spiritual crisis or notice physical changes such as nausea, dry mouth, , weakness, and trouble eating or sleeping. You may find yourself being absent-minded, withdrawing socially, or not wanting to participate in activities you used to enjoy. All of these are normal reactions.
Will Counseling Help Me?
Time with a therapist allows the grieving person to focus on their experiences and explore them without external distractions, such as the needs of other people or the demands of daily life. Frequently, people who are grieving need to talk about their story over and over again and do not want to burden family and friends with the retelling. They need their emotions to be validated. A trained professional will listen willingly, and in a non-judgemental fashion. If one does not have a lot of support from family and friends, which often happens when they too are grieving, it can help to have outside support. Grieving people often find that others have unrealistic expectations about the timeline of their recovery or about how one is experiencing grief. A therapist will be able to help one understand what is normal and realistic.
Bereaved people also may need a ‘time-out’ from their roles as a parent, spouse, or from their job, where they are allowed to express their grief and receive support. If grieving is put off and not dealt with, it may prolong the grieving experience and lead to a major depression.
Finally, a lot of grieving is about expressing emotion and these emotions may be difficult to deal with, , may be unfamiliar, or unacceptable to oneself or others, e.g. anger, guilt, remorse. It is helpful to have a safe place and an accepting person for support while working through these emotions.
Thus, while many people are able to work through their grief independently, accessing additional support from a professional counselor may promote the process of healing. Learning what is normal, having someone to talk to who will not tire of hearing your story and getting support and guidance from a professional can greatly facilitate the grieving process.
How Long Will My Grief Last?
The grief process is a highly individual experience and is largely influenced by one’s culture, religious beliefs, personality, the circumstances of the loss, and the amount of support one receives. There is no single timeline that applies to everyone. Depending on circumstances, it may last from months to years. Rather than concentrating on a specific timeline, it may be more helpful to focus on how the intensity and duration of the grieving process usually proceed. Initially, grief may feel overwhelming and one can feel out of control. With time, people find they are more able to choose when they relive memories and experience emotions, which allows the person to feel more in control again.
The intensity of grief one experiences is difficult to quantify or compare. It is dependant on many things – the degree of attachment to the person or thing, one’s relationship to the deceased or lost item, one’s level of understanding and social support from others, one’s own personality and the nature of the bereavement (e.g., was it a 92 year old grandmother who had a good life, or a young child?). However, no matter the intensity level, with the passing of time, most people find that they are better able to cope and resume their lives. The loss remains, and one may always experience a sense of sadness when reminded of the loss, but the intensity is no longer disabling.
What is ‘Complicated Grief’?
If one does not get better with time, he or she may be experiencing ‘complicated grief’. With ‘complicated grief,’ the grieving process does not progress as expected. The intensity and duration of grief is prolonged and dramatically interferes with a person’s ability to function. It is often characterized by long-lasting symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Deaths such as suicides, murders, car crashes, and almost any other sudden and unexpected death can result in complicated grief simply because they leave people in such shock that they have great difficulty in integrating what happened into their reality. When the thoughts, feelings, behaviors and reactions to grief persist over long periods of time with little change or improvement, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional because complicated grief does not subside on its own.