The loss of a Loved One

Emotional Issues After a Loss

Any change in a person's life-style can be a stressor. Researchers have documented the impact of changes in short periods of time. External events, or stressors such as the death of a significant other, personal injury, illness, or change of residence may force a person out of secure patterns. Stress create a variety of internal reactions from which a person requires a period of readjustment. If too many changes occur within a limited period of time, they become more vulnerable to stress, therefore increasing the chance of moving into the resistance or exhaustion stage.

People can learn they have control of many changes in their lives. However, there are many changes over which they perceive no control, increasing the threat even more. A key to stress management is to learn the ability to pace yourself through stressful situations.

Many people do not know what to expect when a Loved One passes away. In many places today, the process of grieving is not well understood. As a result, grievers and their grieving behavior are often not accepted and supported in the way they deserve to be. Following are various questions that bereaved people, and those who relate to bereaved people, often ask.
  1. How long does grief last?

    When will it be over? Unfortunately, there is no simple and clear answer. There are too many variables to predict with any accuracy how long someone will be in grief. Every griever is unique, as measured by their personality, their coping behaviors, their previous experiences with grief, their relationship with the one who died, and many other factors. Every experience of loss is also unique, including how expected the death was, and whether or not someone was responsible for the death, to name just a few of the variables.

    One's religious faith, one's support system (or lack thereof), the ability to participate in funeral rituals -- these and many other factors influence each individual's grieving process. So the answer is this: grief will last as long as it is supposed to last. Usually grief is a self-limiting process. It will end when it naturally comes to a conclusion. For some people and some relationships, that may be a matter of a few months. For others grief may be measured in years: perhaps one or two for certain kinds of deaths, or even three to five years for more serious or unexpected or traumatic deaths. There is a sense in which certain griefs may never end, depending on your age and the extent of your loss.

  2. Do all people grieve alike?

    No, there is no prescribed way to grieve. Many cry and some do not. Many feel very sad and want to talk about it. Others want to deal with it more on their own. Most people report that their grief comes and goes unpredictably, almost like a roller coaster. But not everyone reports that. Some people feel worse early on, while others find that their most difficult times come months or sometimes even years afterwards.

  3. What are the signs of grieving?

    There are many possible feelings one might have. Sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, tiredness, helplessness, and loneliness are often reported. Some people feel shame, others feel relief. There are also certain physical sensations one might have: tightness in the chest or throat, pain in the heart area, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, trembling. People in grief sometimes don't sleep well, or they sleep too much. The same goes for their eating habits -- they eat too little, or too much, or they eat inappropriately. They may have unusual dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or engage in restless over-activity. All of these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief.

  4. Is it normal to feel like you're going crazy during grief?

    That's one of the most normal feelings of all. A time of grief is an unusual time, even a "crazy" time, in one's life. In a crazy period it can make perfect sense to act a little crazy oneself. Many people, perhaps the majority, wonder if this is happening to them at one time or another in their grieving process. The best thing to do is to remember that one is in good company with many others. "The crazies" will pass.

  5. Do men and women grieve differently?

    It often seems so. The stereotype is that women are more expressive with their feelings and men are more stoic. Women, it is said, give in to their grief more and men fight it off. Women, the theory holds, seek more support from others and men tend to go it alone. Those are all stereotypes that sometimes fit and sometimes don't. It's important to remember that every person has both masculine and a feminine elements.

    So the truth is probably closer to this: some people are more quiet and solitary in their grief and some are more expressive and emotional. Some prefer to work through their grief by actively asserting themselves through various actions, while others are more comfortable giving in to their grief and allowing it to move through them. It's not a matter of men being one way and women being another. It's a matter of different people being comfortable expressing their grief in different ways, whether they're men or women.

  6. Is it morbid to talk about the Loved One who has died?

    Not at all. The Loved One who has died is still a part of the lives of those who have survived. There is still a relationship. That relationship cannot evolve in the way it once did but it can still be a source of meaning and strength. Remembering the Loved One who died and speaking their name is a healthy way of developing a new kind of bond -- one of the heart and the soul rather than of the body.

  7. Is it possible to feel the presence of the Loved One who has died?

    Many people report such experiences. It's usually hard to pin down the experience and put it into words. But sometimes there is the feeling that the Loved One who has died is somehow nearby, if not physically then emotionally or spiritually. These are usually comforting and confirming experiences.

  8. How important is the funeral?

    Research is indicating that some kind of ceremonial farewell is often quite instrumental in helping the bereaved adjust to the death of a Loved One. Those who do not take the opportunity to acknowledge publicly and formally that something significant has happened in their lives may find themselves experiencing more difficulty in the grieving process.

  9. What helps with the grieving process?

    Above all else, what usually helps the most is being able to talk with at least one person about one's feelings -- all the ups and downs, the sadness and the fear, the memories and the hopes. Sometimes bereaved people want to talk with several different people about what is happening with them. Others find value in joining a grief support group. However one chooses, one needs to get one's feelings off one's chest.

    There are ways of doing that other than talking, of course. Writing can be quite valuable -- keeping a journal of one's thoughts and feelings, or writing letters to the Loved One who has died, or composing stories of one's memories, or creating poetry. Some people prefer to express their grief in other ways -- for example, through painting or sculpture, or by sewing or woodworking. Some find meaning in working on a project -- creating a memorial, or starting a project that will help others.

    One small thing that almost always helps is being able to spend time in nature, and to do so at least once a day. Looking at the created world around you and being in touch with the natural rhythms of life and death can be both healing and restorative.

  10. How common is it for other losses to come to mind when a new loss occurs?

    This happens quite commonly. An experience of grief brings to mind those other times when someone or something left us and we felt alone. That can intensify the feelings that are already there. It's also true that if one has not entirely resolved one's previous losses, those memories will likely come to the fore with a real urgency. That is their way of wanting to work themselves out so that one's full health is eventually restored.

  11. Can one control one's grief?

    No, you cannot determine exactly what you will feel and when you will feel it. Grief does not work that way. But you can take an active role in how your grief unfolds. You can be intentional about taking good care of yourself, by eating and sleeping well, getting plenty of exercise, and doing things that you enjoy. You can treat yourself well by giving yourself little presents from time to time -- an evening out, a favorite treat, or maybe just a vase of fresh flowers to enjoy. You can choose to be among people you enjoy and avoid those who do not understand your loss. You can do things for other's and realize that you can still make a difference in others' lives, even if you're missing desperately a loved one.

  12. Where does one find hope after a Loved One has died?

    Many are the times that people report they have grown stronger as a result of the loss they have experienced. They grow more mature, more understanding of others, more aware of themselves. Many people learn new lessons about the meaning of life, as well as the meaning of love. These are often difficult lessons, lessons one wishes one did not have to learn in this way. But they are gateways into a brighter future.

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Adapted from the writings of Jim Miller, author of What Will Help Me: 12 Things to Remember When You Have Suffered a Loss. and How Can I Help?