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Coping With Grief- Losing a Loved One

Updated on June 28, 2015

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult and stressful experience we ever face in our lives

Yet an experience we all, unfortunately, will have to face and cope with at some point in our lives. Loss can include the break-up of a relationship, a miscarriage, the termination of pregnancy, separation from family and friends (homesickness), loss of health, moving. Other forms of loss can still touch us so profoundly, such as the death of a pet or if you happen to be a medical or nursing student, you may have experienced feelings of loss when a patient dies. With loss comes a strong feeling that part of our emotional world has changed forever and can never be retrieved or made good.

What is our Grief?

Grief is the normal response to loss. The sense of helplessness and lack of hope is present to some degree in everyone who has suffered a loss. The expression of grief will vary across cultures and religions. Each has its own traditions and rituals associated with the mourning period. The marking of death in these ways is part of the healing process.

The journey from initial shock and disbelief to acceptance and emotional healing takes time. How long does it take? There is no answer. Its duration and its intensity depend on individual circumstances: our relationship with the deceased, the network of support that sustains us, previous experience of loss and all the other business of our lives. The grieving period can last from several weeks to months and sometimes years. There is a sense in which the grieving never ends, but fades gradually into the background of our lives, to be felt in occasional poignant moments.

If our loss is sudden and traumatic, for example an accidental death, violence or suicide, grief can be particularly acute. There may also be strong feelings of guilt, as we react to the enormity of the event. It`s very easy to feel guilty when someone dies, guilt about all the things left unsaid or undone, guilt about those areas of neglect in our relationship with the deceased for which we irrationally feel we shoulder all the blame, all the responsibility. Strong feelings of anger may often be present, as we rail against the apparent unfairness of being abandoned and left to cope alone with all the heartache that death brings.

How is grief experienced?

In the beginning we will react with shock, disbelief, or denial even if death were expected. In the first hours or days we often feel numb or detached, as though we are observers watching a film. The shock may be such that we can`t even remember what our loved one looked like. We may feel outwardly calm and be able to function mechanically, which is very self-deceptive given the nature of the situation. Sometimes we try to maintain a normal routine to retain some vestige of structure in our lives.

Often in the aftermath of bereavement, how tidy and clean our house becomes, as we set about our domestic chores for the tenth time! And we can laugh, in the midst of our utter desolation we can laugh and sometimes even joke. It all seems so contradictory and confusing. Yet we need the laughter to cope well with the sadness.

Sometimes we feel like totally cutting ourselves off from our family and friends and lose any interest in what is going on around us. These are often good and healthy reactions: they serve us well and protect us against feeling uncomfortably exposed.

We may experience all or none of these feelings. But however we react it`s important to try to stay in touch with whatever changes are happening to us.

It`s really helpful to seek support at this time whatever the nature of the feelings and particularly if ideas of self-harm arise. Even the worst feelings will eventually pass, so it`s vital that we don`t let ourselves feel too overwhelmed or too isolated.

After a while once the numbness has subsided, we will become more fully aware of our loss. This can be the most distressing part of our grief, as we struggle with our distress. It can be difficult also for our friends who seek to provide us with understanding and support. It may take some time for the full extent of our loss to sink in.

Typical signs at this time are a loss of appetite, anxiety, sleeplessness, frequent crying, sadness and hurt. We may have feelings of guilt or anger towards the lost loved one, a close friend, doctor or God. Or we turn inwards against ourselves. Some people see or hear the person who passed or feel their presence. All of this is completely normal.

We may tend to be disorganised, unable to make plans and forgetful. Our concentration may be upset. Our sleeping and eating patterns may be disturbed. Our ability to work or study could be badly affected. Energy may be low as our immune system hesitates and we become prone to coughs and colds.

How do we get through it?

As the feelings diminish it`s tempting to wave them goodbye, only to have them return and feel loss and desolation as birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas celebrations come around. So it`s like a carousel, which circles us, with varying degrees of intensity and distress.

Over time the swings of the emotional pendulum start to calm down. This is the time of acceptance, integrating past and present so that we can slowly put together a different future. The grieving is softening, and future possibilities beckon. As we re-adjust we may be surprised at how we have managed to survive our loss and the extent to which in confronting the fear of loss we have lost our fear of living.

Grieving is hard and much emotional energy is churned up in the process. It is not unusual to cope very well with the first few weeks only to be overwhelmed by emotional exhaustion later, once the stress of the event is over.

Accept our feelings and Express them. They are normal. They are ok. However strange they are part of the healing process.

Allow ourselves to cry. We should attend the funeral if possible and talk about our loved one, remembering the times of love and laughter, even if that is difficult. In sharing our feelings with a trusted friend, we can sometimes talk about things that have long remained private. In visiting places familiar to our loved one, we can celebrate the joining of our lives. In seeking out memories of time spent together past happiness can begin to soften the burden of grief.

We may need to take time off from our studies or work. We should get plenty of rest, eat light, frequent meals, and make time for relaxation and a little exercise. It`s not self-indulgent. We need to be kind to ourselves.

If we try to compensate for poor concentration and lack of motivation by overworking, our time will often be unproductive. Little and often will achieve more.

We need to find someone we can trust. Seek out Caring People: Maybe a friend, a colleague, a family member, a tutor or a counsellor, who can really listen to what is going on inside us.

Be Patient: It can take months or years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life

It`s tempting to see alcohol, tranquilisers, sleeping pills and other drugs as a means to lessen our pain, but there may be a price to pay in not confronting our grief directly.Take Care of Your Health. Accept Life is For the Living: It takes effort to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.Seek Outside Help if

There is no right way to grieve

It's important not to bottle up your feelings when losing a loved one.

As well as shock, bereavement can cause numbness, disbelief, pain, guilt, anger and even relief.

A funeral gives everyone the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one or close friend.

Everyone comes to terms with bereavement differently.

If you're finding it difficult to cope, talk to your family, teacher or a counsellor.

YOU MAY EXPERIENCE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING WHEN YOU GRIEVE:

numbness, the sense that none of this is real-you're just imagining it

expecting your deceased loved one to come back and be able to resume life as usual

experiencing your loved one communicating with you after death

difficulty paying attention or remembering things as well as you did before your loss

a sense of anger, injustice, vexation or helplessness about your situation

feelings of incredible emptiness, loneliness, self-accusation or despair

guilt-if only you had done more, been nicer, not left home, etc.

THE FOLLOWING ARE TYPICAL PHYSCIAL SYMPTOMS OF GRIEF:

difficulty going to sleep, or waking in the middle of the night

weight loss or gain; over- or under-eating

low energy or fatigue

headaches, chest pain or racing heart

upset stomach or digestive problems

hair loss

10 Things you can do to cope

1. Find someone you trust to talk to about how the death or loss is affecting you

2. Be willing to listen and be open to others who have experienced similar lossess

3. Practice taking your attention off your sadness and focus on a pleasant memory , be thankful for what you still have or any other interest

4. Allow yourself to express your emotions

5. Begin new routines. This is a new life

6. Trust mystery and the unseen. Maybe you'll experience special helping dreams or visions, they can be helpful.

7. Take a daily stress break

8. Discover and grieve your associates looses. For every major loss, there will be secondary losses such as financial, companionship, dreams of the future, circle of friends

9. Look for ways to help others. To give of yourself will take the focus off yourself. Your love will heal and be returned.

10. Replensih your spiritual beliefs: Our spiritual beliefs play a major role in how we view death and how we respond when we are faced with it. Grieving might take you to your spiritual and emotional edges, so it’s often tempting to try to avoid it. Yet the more you are willing to embrace your emotions, the better equipped you are to live and love fully.

Helping someone cope with grief

If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help them through the grieving process.

When a friend or loved one is grieving, it is hard to know what to say or how to show your support. Let me suggest phrases like, "At least you got to spend time with them before they died," may be very difficult for people to hear, especially if their loved one died after suffering a great deal. The final days of someone with a terminal disease are often very painful for family members to go through, and are not days that are necessarily filled with fond memories.

Asking family members things like, "What are you going to do with the house/car/clothing?" can really hurt. People in grief will often hang on to the personal effects of their deceased loved one long after people on the outside would deem "appropriate." While it's important for everyone to move on after a loss, it takes different people different amounts of time to return to everyday life.

Share the Sorrow:

Allow them to talk about their feelings of loss and share memories of the deceased

Don't Offer False Hope:

It doesn't comfort the grieving person when you say "it was for the best" or you'll get over it in time". Instead offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen

Offer Practical Help:

Baby-sitting, cooking and running errands are all ways to help someone in the midst of grieving.

Be Patient:

Remember it can take a long time to recover from a major loss.

Make yourself available:

In the following weeks be sure and stay in touch with the family or individual by making personal contact with them. Plan a trip or outing if the relationship is a close one. The gift of continual caring and friendship is always appropriate and well received if given from the heart. Sometimes it is the intangible gift that is most appropriate and lasting.

Losing a loved one to violence

There are things you can do which might help alleviate the emotional pain associated with this traumatic experience. It is important to talk to anyone who will listen:a counsellor or other supportive person.

It goes without saying that someone who has been through this kind of trauma, surviving members of other families, will understand the kind of feelings that you may experience.

Here are just a few of the general principles that may help to guide you through this most difficult time. Try and recognise that you have suffered an event which is 'abnormal and highly stressful, give yourself permission to feel sad, angry or at times "rage". Denying your emotions may delay the healing process. Allow yourself to feel the pain and step along aside it 'a little at a time', there are no rules, set sequences of events or timetables for the 'pain of loss to lessen' and you have every right to feel 'rotten' to say the least.

Losing a loved one to suicide

The guilt you feel after losing a loved one to suicide can be consuming and overwhelming. Though feeling guilty is a normal for suicide survivors, it is not accurate or fair to assume any responsibility for their actions.

It is important to remember that you are only responsible for your actions and how your respond to the actions of those around you. A person who is desperate enough to commit suicide is most likely trying to flee from unending pain and it has no reflection on the people in his life.

Another option for suicide survivors is to seek out a grief support group. You'll be amazed by how opening up about the tragedy in the company of supportive strangers who know what you are going through can help. Sometimes it feels good to talk about your loss, fears, guilt, grief and sorrow. It's also okay to just listen until you are ready to share your own story.

STEPS TOWARD HEALING

Healing from the loss of a loved one doesn't happen overnight, but there are some steps you can take to make peace with your loved one and their decision to commit suicide.

Forgiveness.

This may be difficult at fist when you are blaming him for leaving you the way he did, but it is an important step in the healing process. Try to understand where he was coming from and why his life might have seemed overwhelming.

Closure.

Finding closure is another way to begin healing after a suicide. Come to terms with what happened. Write a heartfelt letter to your loved one.

Remember and Honoring.

It is important to remember your loved one for the good he did, for the times you shared and for the kind of person he was. Displaying pictures, holding memorials, telling future family members about him, etc are all ways to remember and honor your loved one's life.

Many people consider suicide or killing themselves at some point; sometimes the pain of loss, grief, stress, and tragedy can be overwhelming to the point of despair. Getting help is the only way to come through it alive - though that may be the last thing they want!

If you hear someone talk about suicide, don't shrug it off. Follow up on their thoughts and feelings because they may be reaching out.

The loss of a pet

Given the rich and intense relationships most pet owners share with their animal companions, the loss of a pet can be very painful. The loss of a beloved pet can trigger overwhelming feelings of grief and sadness. Physically, you might have trouble sleeping, lose weight, feel tired all the time or have difficulty focusing. Your feelings might surprise you, but shouldn’t if you consider all of the things your animal companion brought to your life, chief among them love and affection.

How can I better understand my sadness about the death of my pet?

It may come as a surprise that you feel so deeply about your pet. You may have been aware, but not mindful, of the many wonderful gifts your pet brought to your life. For many, the loss of a pet is the loss of a trusted companion.

Should I get a new pet right away?

Common wisdom says no, because pets are not interchangeable. Though it’s tempting to fill the void of one pet’s passing with another pet, most vets and grief counselors say it’s best to mourn the old pet so that the new one can be appreciated fully for its own sake, not as a replacement. That may mean choosing another type of pet or a different breed. Follow your instincts, you will know when it is right to bring a new animal companion into your life.

Moving through your grief

Never Be Ashamed

Moving through your grief doesn't mean "forgetting", rather it's getting passed the day your loved one passed on and remembering the times in which they lived.

Losing a loved one is never easy and each person will have to deal with it in his/her own way, but the best way to help yourself through your pain is to let yourself feel pain. Feeling pain for a passed loved one is totally natural and something one should never be ashamed of.

Looking to the future

Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain may lessen, the crying may stop, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.

Celebrate the life of the person that passed.

They touched your life for a reason.

(POEM) Losing A Loved One

By Shirley H. Brunson

Although your heart is hurting,

And you feel you can't go on

Know in that very moment

Your loved one wasn't alone

For God was there beside them

Holding onto their hand

As the time drew nearer

For them to leave this land

He held them close and whispered

"My child, your time is now"

"But how will my loved ones go on?"

He whispered, "I will show them how"

"I will give them strength and love"

And comfort in the night,

I will fill their hearts with peace

Knowing you had wings as you took flight

You no longer walk amongst them

For now you fly above

With all my Heavenly angels

Spreading ever lasting and eternal love

KEEP IN MIND

"Grief is not a problem to be solved, it is simply a statement that you have loved"

CONSIDER READING - Self-Help Books

Waking To Tears is a book that "exposes the depths of souls filled with pain and grief of losing a loved one to violence. The experiences may differ but the grief is not isolated. Now as a nation enters a new stage of grief, Waking To Tears shares what many already had known, you are not alone in your pain."

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    • Jack Hagan profile image

      Jack Hagan 2 years ago from New York

      Controlling the emotions after the loss of your loved one is not an easy task to do. The only thing which can heal the wounds of your loved one's loss is the time itself. However, no doubt that there are several ways which can make you feel good and remember the positive and pleasant memories of the departed instead of crying on his death.

    • profile image

      tinagarrison 5 years ago

      hi i am new here, i am having the hardest time getting over my dads death, the counselors are not helping, i just don't know what to do, i feel lost, anger, depressed,eating a lot, sick, i just need some help/ i am 54, lost mom when i was younger, my only brother died a year before my mom,

    • MissMissylue LM profile image

      MissMissylue LM 5 years ago

      Great lens! I have been reading loads on death and grief after losing my lover of three years. Thank you for lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very nice, comprehensive piece of work you have here.

      My wife and I found a great book for helping children cope with loss -many years ago when our niece died at age 4. We bought the book to help our kids better understand. it was called 'Freddie the Leaf, by Leo Battaglia (I think that is correct). He is long gone. Don't know if it's still in print.

      Nice work!

      Vic Doke

      Burial Insurance Advice

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      grigolep 5 years ago

      very nice video, ny san like it

      loans

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you for this site. I lost my mom to cancer in 1997. I was 7 months pregnant with my son when she passed. I also left my abusive husband around 4 years ago. My family has fallen apart my mom was like the glue in our family. I never got support from any of them. But by reading your site. Made a lot of since thank you for that.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      My Grandpa died back in November last year. I still miss him a lot.

      I loved the poem, thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I loved the poem. It is very comforting to know my mom was with God on her way home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      This read was very helpful. Thank you.

    • AuthorNormaBudden profile image

      AuthorNormaBudden 9 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your lens. Keep up the superb work!

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      Author

      Andrea Carangelo 9 years ago from New Jersey

      fotojanik,

      Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment.

    • ACAssociates profile image
      Author

      Andrea Carangelo 9 years ago from New Jersey

      Marzie,

      Thank you for visiting. I'm sorry to hear about your twin. I'm sure you are experiencing a lot of pain and emotional feelings. I hope you realize what you are going thru is normal responses. I do hope this lens gave you some comfort and help. Blessings to both of you.

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      Very helpful put twin in Nursing Home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      This is a wonderful resource. Thank you.

      Jackal

    • bebop4bo profile image

      bebop4bo 10 years ago

      Your lens covers so much and so well. I have a lens, How to Cope With Grief, and I'd like to add you to my lensroll, as soon as I find how to do it. (I have computer distress disorder.) Maybe you would like to look at my lens, and tell me what you think? Our lenses dovetail nicely. 5 stars.