Grieving is a natural process that can take place after any kind of loss. When a loved one passes away this can be a very overpowering emotion that has to run its course.
There are a whole succession of different feelings that can take some time to go through and must not be hurried. Although people are all individuals, the order in which they go through these feelings is very similar.
For some hours or days following the death of someone who is close, most people feel totally stunned, a feeling of disbelief is common, even if death has been expected, say after a long illness, however this feeling of emotional numbness can actually help in dealing with the various practical arrangements that have to be made. However this detachment from reality can become a problem if it goes on for too long. To overcome this it can help to see the person who has died. Sometimes it's not until the actual funeral that the reality of what has happened finally sinks in.
Although it may be distressing to attend the funeral or see the body, it is important to say goodbye to the ones we loved. It is often the case for people who did not do this to experience a great feeling of regret for years to come. After the feeling of numbness has gone it is often replaced by a sense of agitation and a yearning for the person who has died. This can affect the bereaved in their everyday life, it may be difficult to relax, concentrate or even sleep properly.
Some people may experience extremely disturbing dreams, others say that they actually see their loved one everywhere they go, more commonly in the places that they used to spend time together. It is also quite usual to feel angry at this time - towards doctors and medical staff for not preventing the death, towards people around them such as friends and relatives, or even towards the person who has left them.
Another very common feeling is guilt. It is likely that the bereavement will go over in their mind all the things they wished they had said or done, in some cases they may even consider what they could have done to have prevented the death. Of course death is usually beyond the control of anyone, and they must be reminded of this.
Guilt is often experienced if a sense of relief is felt when someone has died, particularly after a distressing illness. This feeling of relief is perfectly natural and very common and is nothing to feel guilty about. These strong confusing emotions are generally felt for about two weeks or so after the death and are generally followed by periods of sadness and depression.
Grief can be sparked off many months after the death by things that bring back memories. It can be difficult for other people to understand or cope with someone who bursts into tears for no apparent reason. Some people who can't deal with this tend to stay away at the time when they are needed most of all. It is best to return to a normal life as soon as possible; try to resume normal activities.
The phrase "Time is a great healer" is in most cases certainly true, however the pain of losing a loved one never entirely disappears, nor should it be expected to. For the bereaved partner, there are constant reminders of their singleness - seeing other couples together and from the images seen on television of happy families. All this can make it difficult to adjust to a new, single, lifestyle.
The different stages of mourning tend to overlap and can show themselves in various ways. There is no 'standard' way of grieving as we, being individuals, have our own ways of dealing with all of life's trials not least the loss of someone we love.
Grief in children and adolescents
Generally children do not understand the meaning of death until they are three or four years old. Even with this being the case they feel the loss of a close friend or relative in much the same way as adults. Even in infancy, it is clear that children grieve and feel great distress. Children experience the passage of time differently to adults and can therefore appear to overcome grief quite quickly. However children in their early school years may need reassuring that they are not responsible for the death of a close relative as they often blame themselves for one reason or another. It is important that the grief of a young person is not overlooked, as they will often not want to burden parents by talking about their feelings. For this reason they should usually be included in the funeral arrangements.
Friends and relatives can help
Generally by simply spending time with the person who has been bereaved. Being close to others can be a great source of comfort. It is not always necessary to say anything; just being there is enough. It is important that a bereaved person is able to talk and cry with someone without being told to pull themselves together. It can also be difficult for people to understand why the bereaved keep covering the same ground, talking things over and over again; this is an important part of the healing process and should really be encouraged. By not mentioning the name of the person who has died for fear of upsetting; it can indeed lead to a period of isolation and can add to the grief of the bereaved. Another difficult time when friends and relatives can be of help is festive occasions and anniversaries, which can be particularly painful for years to come.
Practical help with domestic chores and looking after children can all lead to easing the difficulties facing the bereaved. Elderly bereaved partners may need more practical help than most, particularly with financial arrangements - paying bills etc.
Grief that is never resolved
Some people hardly seem to grieve at all. They can avoid any mention of their loss, do not cry at the funeral and appear to return to their normal life remarkably quickly. For some people this is just their normal way of dealing with their loss and no harm occurs. However others may suffer physical illness and periods of depression for some time to come.
Sometimes people get trapped in the grieving pattern. The sense of disbelief and shock can just continue and never seem to end, whereas others can not think about anything else but the loss of their loved one. Both of these instances are damaging and there is a list of care associations who can help with this, within this publication.
Your doctor can help
In some instances, sleepless nights can go indefinitely, which can be a serious problem. The doctor may be able to prescribe something to help with sleep. Bereavement can turn our world upside-down and is one of the most painful experiences we have to endure. In spite of this it is something that most go through without need for medical attention. For those who do run into problems however, there is help available and you shouldn't hesitate to contact your family doctor.
GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You do not have to go through the grieving process alone.
GriefShare seminars and support groups are led by people who understand what you are going through and want to help. You’ll gain access to valuable GriefShare resources to help you recover from your loss and look forward to rebuilding your life.