Grief and Bereavement

Grief is not depression. Grief and bereavement are not disorders or illnesses. Like stress, grief is a part of everyone’s life and a perfectly normal response to significant loss. Individual’s experience the intensity and duration of grief differently. There is no “right” way to grieve. Grief is a natural response and may come with a loss of any kind (whether it was expected or not, whether it is the loss of a pet or a job or financial security). Sometimes one loss seems to lead to another and as losses compound, people are at higher risk for developing a mental health disorder.

Common grief responses include:

  • Disbelief, numbness, shock, inability to accept the loss as a reality
  • Anger or frustration that the loss occurred
  • Sadness with feelings of helplessness, despair and isolation
  • Changes in energy, appetite and sleeping habits
  • Yearning for the person that was lost
  • Relief that any suffering is over
  • Difficulty focusing and making decisions

Anxiety and depression can be components of a grieving process. If symptoms of anxiety or depression persist beyond a couple of months, or if they are so intense that they interfere with daily functioning, they may need treatment. Talk with your health care provider when symptoms of anxiety or depression interfere with your daily life. Go here to learn more about signs and symptoms.

People grieve for many reasons, the most common being the loss of a loved one. The death of a loved one is always difficult. Your reactions to the loss are influenced by the circumstances of the death, such as a sudden or accidental death, and by your relationship with the person who died.

A child’s death arouses an overwhelming sense of injustice — for lost potential, unfulfilled dreams, and senseless suffering. Parents may feel responsible for the child’s death, no matter how irrational that may seem. Parents may also feel that they have lost a vital part of their own identity.

A spouse’s death is very traumatic. In addition to the severe emotional shock, the death may cause a potential financial crisis if the spouse was the family’s main income source. The death may necessitate major social adjustments. Older adults may be especially vulnerable when they lose a spouse or life partner of many years. At this time, feelings of loneliness may also be compounded by the death of close friends.

A loss due to suicide can be among the most difficult to bear. It may leave the survivors with a tremendous burden of guilt, anger, and shame. Survivors may even feel responsible for the death. Seeking counseling during the first weeks after the suicide can be beneficial.

Accepting the reality of loss takes time, even if the loss was expected. It is important to find ways to release the many different feelings that occur – not just sorrow, but also anger, frustration and fear. Trusted family and friends, a support group, clergy and counselors are possible sources of support. Distraction with activities can provide respite from the despair but if a person tries to stay too busy to think about or feel a loss, tries to continue to numb the pain, or cut off feelings (perhaps by using alcohol or mood-altering medications), they are at risk for developing other behavioral health problems and/or physical illnesses. If after several months the grief remains intense and interferes with daily functioning, it is advisable to talk with a mental health professional.

Dealing with grief

People have many different ways for coping with loss. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Practice good self-care, eat nutritious meals, exercise every day and get enough sleep
  • Talk regularly with friends to remain connected
  • Be truthful about how people can be of help to you
  • Process your feelings by talking with someone you trust, or using another form of expression such as keeping a journal, making art, or physical activity
  • Structure your time alone
  • Lose yourself in a favorite hobby
  • Spend time alone in nature, in meditation, and/or in prayer
  • Do something to help someone else
  • Give yourself rewards for successes each day
  • Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions
  • Don’t judge yourself – accept where you are in the grieving process

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