Dealing With Grief
That indescribable pain. Grief is an extremely complex process that people handle in very different ways. Sadly, many people just don’t deal with it at all. It is a highly individual experience, but at its root, grief is all about loss. The most obvious example is the death of a loved one; but it can also be felt when an important relationship ends, a job is lost or something treasured is stolen. When grieving is due to death, sometimes the process can start before they have even passed away, for example in the cases of dementia and terminal cancer. Their family and friends watch powerlessly as they slip away. Grief is a natural response to loss; but dealing with grief can be very difficult. But by understanding the process and taking the right steps, there are ways you can cope.
The Stages of Grief
Grief works in stages, although opinion is divided on just how many stages there are. Of course, nobody experiences loss in the same way. Broadly speaking, the first stage is disbelief and shock. The process then weaves its way through denial, guilt, anger and depression. At the end of the journey, hopefully there is acceptance, as the individual begins to look to future. Recognising and acknowledging the steps are crucial in helping you through grief. Always remember that grief is a process and not an event. There is no time frame for how long you will be grieving. You can’t speed it up by ignoring how you feel and pushing your emotions down. They will simply resurface later when you are not expecting it, and dealing with grief becomes far more difficult.
Mental, Physical and Social Effects
You don’t just feel ‘sad’ when someone you love passes away. Your body and mind are hit with a whole whirlwind of effects, as outlined above. The impact on your mental health such as shock, anger and sadness can also influence your physical health. This includes loss of appetite, fatigue, aches and pains and sleep problems. It has even been linked to a weakened immune system, so if you’re grieving, you often get sick too. The mental and physical issues can also wreak havoc on your social life. It is very common for grieving people to isolate themselves from friends and family. Conflicts can also arise when your family or friends are at a different grieving stage from your own.
Even when you think your grief journey is complete, there will be events that may trigger the feelings you went through anew. Birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries can be particularly problematic. It is normal to feel these emotions all over again at these points. Again, it is all part of the grieving process and learning to adjust the way you live your life without your loved one.
What You Can Do to Help
There are things you can do to help in dealing with grief. Whatever stage you are at, be clear that you can’t speed it up, but you can make it easier.
Grief can be very daunting, especially if this is the first time you are experiencing it. Talking about how you are feeling is very important. Don’t bottle everything up and suffer in silence. If you feel like you can’t talk to a family member or friend without feeling like a burden (it is very common to feel that way) then speak to a GP or other healthcare professional. Counselling can be very beneficial and there are also great support organisations such as Cruse Bereavement Care who can help. Whether it’s friends, family or a professional, having someone there to express how you are feeling and give you guidance on how to move forward may really benefit you.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Anyone Else
Grief is personal – your journey is different to everyone else’s. If you compare your grief to someone else, it can have a very negative impact on your wellbeing. Thinking “Why don’t I feel like them?” can easily make you feel like there is something wrong with your own grief.
Get out the photo albums and reminisce about the wonderful times you enjoyed together. You could even make a scrapbook dedicated to the person you are missing. That way whenever you are feeling sad you can get it out and flick through the pictures to help remember them.
Look After Yourself
When you’re fighting the mental and physical effects of grief, your life can easily fall into chaos and bad habits can emerge. Make sure you follow a sensible diet (undereating and overeating can have very bad effects) and make time for exercise. Motivation can be difficult but staying physically active (even a short daily walk) is very beneficial. Avoid heavy drinking and illicit drugs – you will not find the answers to dealing with grief with them.
My Personal Grief Journey
I’ve had my first personal battle with grief recently. I lost my grandfather back in August 2021 after a battle with dementia at the grand old age of 91. Even though his passing was expected it still completely shocked me when I realised he was no longer here, and I would no longer be going to visit him almost daily in his care home. I wanted to shut myself away, but I had to carry on because realistically I knew that would not achieve anything. I just had to give myself healing time, which I did. Taking advantage of the wonderful support unit I had around me helped significantly.
If you are currently dealing with grief, remember it’s your journey and no one can tell you how to heal. Loss is loss and no one can tell you whether you should or should not be grieving. Find what helps you and avoid what doesn’t. Every feeling is valid – sadness, shock, guilt or anger. Even if you feel like you don’t feel anything and are just a bit numb to the situation, then that is also okay. You will find the strength to keep going and things do get easier.