Grief is the physical, emotional and mental condition brought on by a loss, or the death of someone you love. Grief is our body's natural ability to heal our emotional injury. Grieving is difficult and many times assistance of friends, loved ones or a grief counselor is needed. Grief is a personal process characterized by three phases.
Three Phases of Grief
The first phase is Shock (denial). This begins with the news of the death, but the reality of the death may occur in a few minutes, a few days or even several months later. This phase protects the survivor from the emotional impact of the death. A need to stay busy, confusion, an inability to express emotion, inability to function and an overwhelming sense that something is wrong without grasping the reality of the loss are common characteristics of this phase.
The second phase is the expression of grief, such as bargaining, anger and depression and may last for several days to several years. There are mental, physical and emotional manifestations that may come and go, or appear in any combination.
- Mental: Preoccupation with the death, inability to focus or remember, lack of productivity, paranoia or, inconsistent thoughts.
- Physical: Fatigue, weakness, insomnia, weight gain or loss, headaches, tendency to catch stress-related illnesses, a sense of vulnerability, discomfort with too much activity or stimulation.
- Emotional: Intense sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, confusion, helplessness, isolation and guilt. There may be the inability to feel love or give love, compulsive behavior, or thinking that you are "crazy". If an individual is experiencing these symptoms, realize that they are quite normal and in many ways are a necessary part of the healing process of grief. However, if you feel the individual is experiencing these conditions acutely and is not able to handle the grief on their own, professional help may be needed.
The third and final phase is Acceptance. You will know when the individual has reached this stage when they are able to recall memories of their deceased loved one fondly and pleasantly instead of painfully. Once acceptance has been reached, planning for the future becomes more realistic. A new and wiser individual will have emerged.
Coping With Your Grief
How can you overcome the problems of grief? You must first recognize that grief is necessary, and that it is something you must work through. There is no shortcut through grief.
One of the best ways to begin working through grief is to attend the funeral. A funeral confirms the reality of death and serves as a focus for expressing feelings of loss. Funerals also stimulate mourners to begin talking about the deceased, one of the first steps toward accepting the death.
Both before and after the funeral, it is important that you express your feelings. Take time to cry and don't be afraid to share your tears with other mourners. Talk openly with family members and friends it helps them as much as it does you. Don't try to "protect" them by hiding your sadness. Express your anger if you are feeling it. This is the time when you should lean on friends. They may feel awkward because they don't know how to talk to you about your loss, but let them know what you need, and how you would like them to help you.
If you normally have a pressing schedule, lighten it. Remember, grief is mentally stressful; you don't need the added strain of too much work to do. Set aside some quiet times for yourself to reflect on the death and your feelings, and to put things in perspective.
The strain of grief can take a physical toll as well. It's not unusual for the bereaved to lose weight, experience difficulty sleeping, become irritable or listless, or feel short of breath. So remember to watch your health. You need to eat well and get enough sleep. Try to exercise because physical activity can often help offset depression and provide an outlet for your emotional energy.
What if you can't seem to handle your grief? It is difficult to say when a person needs professional help, but if you are worried that you aren't coping with your grief, it is time to seek help. You may be relieved to discover that you are simply reacting in normal ways. If you believe you need help, ask a clergy member, doctor or contact a grief counselor.
Finally, remember that as time goes on, your grief will diminish. This does not mean you will forget your loved one it means you accept the death and can no longer enjoy the deceased person's physical presence. But he or she will still be a part of your life. Even though your relationship with your loved one has changed forever, its existence and your feelings live on forever.
Taking Care of Yourself
During the first few days after a death, family and friends surround you. You are busy planning the funeral and may not have time to think about yourself until later when you are alone with your grief. After you've planned the funeral, take care of yourself.
You can expect to experience a wide range of emotions. Grieving is hard work, and you may feel tired and lethargic without understanding why. Lighten your schedule if you can, eat healthy foods and exercise to renew your energy. Take time to be alone with your thoughts, but also spend time talking to close friends about your loss. You need to express your emotions. It is okay to cry, to laugh, or to be silent. Write things down about your feelings, your wishes, regrets and joys. Give yourself breaks from grieving to rest, have fun and be nurtured. Try to eat well. Try to get your sleep. Above all, give yourself time.
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