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Grief and Loss

Written by Joanne Coull

Experiencing loss is a part of being human, but there are ways in which we can help those who are grieving. 

The first thing we can do to help somebody who is grieving, is to have an idea of how grief occurs, and the process for those who are experiencing grief.  We must keep in mind that everyone is different, and their responses to loss will be different from ours, however, generally, there are some responses that are common for many people.

There are many different physical responses that a person may have resulting from the loss of a loved one.  Initially, after receiving the news of loss, a person may feel numb, or empty–as if they can’t feel anything. They may also feel shortness of breath, or as if there’s a heavy weight on their chest.  Over time, loss can cause one to experience a weakened immunity, thus contracting more colds.  They may also experience hypertension resulting from stress.  Loss of appetite, headaches, and difficulty sleeping may also occur months after losing a loved one. 

People will also behave differently following the loss of a loved one, and throughout their grieving process.  Initially, one may cry a lot, become disoriented, or listless.  Later, they may seem over-reactive, hyper-sensitive, or they may isolate themselves.  These behaviours are normal for someone who is grieving.  

Finally, we as observers, may notice more of the emotional changes a grieving person may display.  This may also manifest through behaviour.  We may notice initially that the person is in shock, and unable to perform simple daily tasks.  This may come and go, as the individual may go from belief to disbelief regarding their loss.  Later, the individual may exhibit anger toward the deceased.  This is also normal, as they may feel abandoned.  There will likely be fear of the unknown–not knowing how they will get along without their loved one.  They may even become depressed, but most common is sadness.  Sadness is triggered by reminders of their loss.  

All of these responses are normal for a person experiencing grief from the loss of a loved one.  Now that we are aware of some common responses, as difficult and awkward as it may be for us, there are things that we can do to help our grieving friends and family members.  

When our friends or family members first become aware of their loss, and they are experiencing those normal emotional, physical, and behavioural responses, we can be there for them and with them.  Do things for them, such as cleaning their house, or grocery shopping.  If it’s within your comfort level, don’t ask what you can do, just do it.  As much as we may want to, we should not tip-toe around our loved ones who are grieving.  We can talk to them about the death, the funeral plans, and their memories of the deceased.  This can be very difficult for us, as we may feel we don’t want to upset our loved ones, however, in the long run, it is very healing to work through this part of the process.  When a grieving person hears themself talking about the deceased, they are able to come to terms with and accept their loss.  Remember, at this point, our loved ones are going through the heaviness, sleepless, intense initial stages of their grief.  Sit with them, talk, and listen.  It could take months for some to pass through this part of the process.

Later, our loved ones may be going through a lot of different and intense emotions.  This will get them through to realising and accepting their loss.  If they are not allowed to work through their grief, they can become depressed, and have a lifetime of grief.  We can continue to allow our loved one to cry with us, and we should be there to talk about their pain and feelings with them, as this will validate what they are going through.  If appropriate, our loved ones may need to be reminded that they have survived many difficulties and losses in their life to this point, and they are quite capable of surviving this.  This is not easy for people supporting loved ones through their grief.  Make sure that you as a support person have someone you can confide in through this process.

Once our grieving loved one has begun to accept that life will continue without the deceased, and there is no set time for a person to reach this place, they will begin to plan their life accordingly.  They may have to make financial adjustments, child care changes, or career changes.  There may also be spiritual changes happening within our grieving loved ones.  This shows an interest in moving forward with life, not forgetting the deceased, but moving forward.  We, as helpers, can help by giving input regarding their changes, guiding them when needed, as it can be difficult and overwhelming to make such decisions alone.

Finally, our grieving loved ones come to know a life without the deceased.  They have made a place in their heart/memories for the deceased, and they are now living their life without him/her.  They are able to think of or discuss the deceased without intense crying or sadness.  Although life is going on for our loved ones, keep in mind that anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays will likely be difficult times for years to come.  They may even have a new love in their life.  We are still needed for support at this point.  We can encourage our loved ones to make new friends, and explore new relationships–this, however, cannot be rushed.  It’s important that the new person in our loved one’s life is recognised for him/herself, rather than as a replacement for the deceased. 

If you notice your loved one displaying any uncharacteristic behaviour such as putting themself at risk, using substances, talking about death a lot in unrelated terms, loss of self-esteem, talking of suicide, or anything else that is unusual for this person’s character, bring it up to them, and seek other help if necessary.  

This is a large task for a person to take on as support for a grieving loved one.  Remember that you are not alone, and there are other people who can also support the grieving person. There are a number of resources such as health care professionals, support groups, people in ministry, etc that can also help your loved one alongside you.

PsyMood is a digital tool designed to help you find the support you need in the language that you are most comfortable with. PsyMood considers cultural background, geographical location, interests, and personal needs, amongst other factors, to pair you with service providers for either online or in-person therapy sessions.

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