A Guide To Grief: |
This guide will help you understand the grief you and
others may feel after a death
Grief is a normal
response to loss. It can be the loss of a home, job, marriage or a love one.
Often the most painful loss is the death of a person you love, whether from a
long illness or from an accident or an act of violence.
This guide will help you understand the grief you and
others may feel after a death, whether sudden or anticipated. We hope this guide
will help you realize that these feelings are not unusual and things can get
better. You are not alone.
The Grieving Process
Grief is painful and at times the pain seems unbearable. It is a combination of
many emotions that come and go, sometimes without warning. Grieving is the
period during which we actively experience these emotions. How long and how
difficult the grieving period is depends on the relationship with the person who
dies, the circumstances of the death, and the situation of the survivors. The
length of time people grieve can be weeks, months, and even years. One thing is
certain: grief does not follow a timetable, but it does ease over time.
Because grief is so painful, some people try to “get over”
a loss by denying the pain. Studies show that when people don’t deal with the
emotions of grief, the pain does not go away. It remains with them, and can turn
unrecognizable and sometimes destructive ways. Understanding the emotions
of grief and its feeling and symptoms are important steps in healing and in
helping others who may be grieving.
The Feelings and Symptoms of Grief
Experts describe the process of grieving and the emotions of grief in various
ways The most commonly described reactions are: Shock, Denial, Anger, Guilt,
Depression, Acceptance, and Growth. Some people experience the grieving process
in this order. Most often, a person feels several of these emotions at the same
time, perhaps in different degrees.
If the death comes suddenly, as in an accident or murder, shock is often the
first response people feel. Even if the death is anticipated, there may be
disbelief at its finality. A person may be numb, or, like a robot, be able to go
through the motions of life while actually feeling little. At the same time,
physical symptoms such as confusion and loss of appetite are common.
Shock and denial are nature’s way of softening the immediate blow of death.
Denial can follow soon after the initial shock. People may know their loved one
has died, but some part of them can’t yet accept the reality of the death. It is
not uncommon to fantasize that the deceased will walk through the door, as if
nothing has happened. Some people leave bedrooms unchanged or make future plans
as if the loved one will participate, just as in the past.
Anger is normal. It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and causing a
sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did not do enough, or at
a murderer who killed without remorse. People of faith may feel anger at God,
for allowing so much pain and anguish. Anger may also be directed at oneself for
not saving the life of the loved one. It can be a mild feeling or a raging
irrational emotion. It can test one’s faith in religion or even in the goodness
Few survivors escape some feeling of guilt and regret. “I should have done more”
are words that haunt many people. Were angry words exchanged? Most people are
very creative in finding reasons for guilt. So many things could have been done
differently “if only I had known.”
Sadness is the most inevitable emotion of grief. It is normal to feel abandoned,
alone and afraid. After the shock and denial have passed and the anger has been
exhausted, sadness and even hopelessness may set in. A person may have little
energy to do even the simplest daily chores. Crying episodes may seem endless.
Time alone will not heal grief. Acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain
may free the survivor from a yearning to return to the past. Accepting life
without the lost loved one may give way to a new perspective about the future.
Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but rather using the memories to create a
new life without the loved one. Hoping for things to be as they were may be
replaced by a search for new relationships and new activities.
Grief is a chance for personal growth. For many people, it may eventually lead
to renewed energy to invest in new activities and new relationships. Some people
seek meaning in their loss and get involved in causes or projects that help
Some people find a new compassion in themselves as a
result of the pain they have suffered. They may become more sensitive to others,
thus enabling richer relationships. Others find new strength and independence
they never knew they had. After the loss, they find new emotional resources that
had not been apparent before.
The Experience of Grief
Grieving people have two choices: they can avoid the pain and all the other
emotions associated with their loss and continue on, hoping to forget. This is a
risky choice, since experience shows that grief, when ignored, continues to
The other choice is to recognize grieving and seek healing
and growth. Getting over a loss is slow, hard work. In order for growth to be
possible, it is essential to allow oneself to feel all the emotions that arise,
as painful as they may be, and to treat oneself with patience and kindness.
Feel the Pain
Give into it - even give it precedence over other emotions and activities,
because grief is a pain that will get in the way later if it is ignored. Realize
that grief has no timetable; it is cyclical, so expect the emotions to come and
go for weeks, months or even years. While a show of strength is admirable, it
does not serve the need to express sadness, even when it comes out at unexpected
times and places.
Talk About Your Sorrow
Take the time to seek comfort from friends who will listen. Let them know you
need to talk about your loss. People will understand, although they may not know
how to respond. If they change the subject, explain that you need to share your
memories and express your sorrow.
Forgive yourself for all the things you believe you should have said or done.
Also forgive yourself for the anger and guilt and embarrassment you may have
felt while grieving.
Eat Well and Exercise
Grief is exhausting. To sustain your energy, be sure to maintain a balanced
diet. Exercise is also important in sustaining energy. Find a routine that suits
you - perhaps walks or bike rides with friends, or in solitude. Clear your mind
and refresh your body.
Take naps, read a good book, listen to your favorite music, get a manicure, go
to a ball game, rent a movie. Do something that is frivolous, distracting and
that you personally find comforting.
Prepare for Holidays and Anniversaries
Many people feel especially “blue” during these periods, and the anniversary
date of the death can be especially painful. Even if you think you’ve
progressed, these dates may bring back some of your painful emotions. Make
arrangements to be with friends and family members with whom you are
comfortable. Plan activities that give you an opportunity to mark the
Bereavement groups can help you recognize your feelings and put them in
perspective. They can also help alleviate the feeling that you are alone. The
experience of sharing with others who are in a similar situation can he
comforting and reassuring. Sometimes, new friendships grow through these groups
- even a whole new social network that you did not have before.
There are specialized groups for widowed persons, for
parents who have lost a child, for victims of drunken drivers, etc. There are
also groups that do not specialize. Check with your local hospice or other
bereavement support groups for more information.
If you find that you are in great distress or in long-term
depression, individual or group therapy from a counselor who specializes in
grief may be advisable. You can ask your doctor for a referral.
Take Active Steps to Create a New Life for Yourself
Give yourself as much time to grieve as you need. Once you find new energy,
begin to look for interesting things to do. Take courses, donate time to a cause
you support, meet new people, or even find a new job.
It is often tempting to try to replace the person who has
been lost. Whether through adoption, remarriage, or other means; this form of
reconciliation often does not work.
Many people discover that there is hope after death. Death
takes away, but grief can give back. It is possible to recover from grief with
new strengths and a new direction. By acting on our grief, we may eventually
find peace and purpose.
Helping Those in Grief
You may know someone who has experienced a loss. Many of us feel awkward when
someone dies, and don’t know what to do or say. The suggestions below are
designed to help you help friends, family and coworkers who are grieving.
Reach Out to the Grieving Person
Show your interest and share your caring feelings. Saying the wrong thing is
better than saying nothing at all. At the same time, avoid clichés like “It was
God’s will,” or “God never gives us more than we can bear”, or “At least she
isn’t suffering.” Do not say you know how it feels. Do say you are sorry and
that you are available to listen. Be prepared for emotional feelings yourself. A
death generates questions and fears about our own mortality.
Your greatest gift to a grieving person can be your willingness to listen. Ask
about the deceased. Allowing the person to talk freely without fear of
disapproval helps to create healthy memories. It is an important part of
healing. While you can’t resolve the grief, listening can help.
Ask How You Can Help
Taking over a simple task at home or at work is not only helpful, it also offers
reassurance that you care. Be specific in your offer to do something and then
follow up with action.
Remember Holidays and Anniversaries
These can be a very difficult time for those who are in grief. Do not allow the
person to be isolated. Remember to share your home, yourself, or anything that
may be of comfort.
Suggest Activities That You Can Do Together
Walking, biking or other exercises can be an opportunity to talk, and a good
source of energy for a tired body and mind.
Help the Grieving Person Find New Activities and
Include grieving persons in your life. Grieving people may require some
encouragement to get back into social situations. Be persistent, but try not to
press them to participate before they are ready.
Pay Attention to Danger Signs
Signs that the grieving person is in distress might include weight loss,
substance abuse, depression, prolonged sleep disorders, physical problems, talk
about suicide, and lack of personal hygiene.
Observing these signs may mean the grieving person needs
professional help. If you feel this is the case, a suggestion from you (if you
feel close enough to the person), or from a trusted friend or family member may
be appropriate. You might also want to point out community resources that may be
Death can be a painful and permanent loss experience, and
one of the hardest from which to recover. Death takes away, but facing it and
grieving can result in peace, new strengths and purpose.