The loss of a loved one leaves a hole in our lives that cannot be filled. Each individual deals with his or her own grief process in their own way, but all of us share certain aspects in common with others.
When a loved one dies, you may experience a range of emotions, even if the death is anticipated. Many people experience an initial stage of feeling numb. The feelings most common to the grieving process are:
These feelings are normal and are typical reactions to loss. You may be surprised by the intensity and duration of your feelings and by the shifts in mood you may experience. It often feels as if you are “mentally unstable.” These emotions are appropriate and are part of the way you are processing your grief.
Mourning a loved one is not easy. It is a natural process to help you come to terms with a major loss. There may be traditions such as religious observances, memorial services, and gathering with family and friends to share your loss that help in the process. Mourning is very individual, and may last months or years.
Your grieving process can be expressed both psychologically, emotionally and sometimes physically. Some people experience sleeplessness, anxiety, loss of appetite and lack of energy. Mourning can affect your immune system, leaving you open to new illnesses or exacerbating existing ones.
Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale
The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale rates life events that can cause not only stress, but also illness. The most stressful life event on the scale is the loss of a spouse, with a rating of 100. Close behind is the death of a close family member, with a rating of 63. Death of a close friend rates a 37. When combined with other stressors on the scale such as financial problems, changes in residence, and even such events perceived as positive, such as marriage or the gaining of a new family member, it is easy to see how someone could accumulate the 300 points on the scale that Holmes and Rahe in their research indicates as a risk for illness. 1
Caution: You may experience intense emotions, including feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. These are serious reactions, and you should seek professional support. While sadness is normal, thoughts of suicide are not, and require immediate help and support.
Coping with Grief
Learning to cope with the grieving process is important for both your mental and physical well-being. Developing a strategy to cope is key.
- Express your emotions – Allowing yourself to openly express your feelings will help you work through the process of grieving.
- Find a support system – Surround yourself with family, friends, a trusted counselor, clergy or support group members who can understand your feelings.
- Take radical self-care of yourself – Be sure to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Maintain contact with your physician to assure continued maintenance of good health.
- At your own pace, begin to participate in activities –Begin to live in the present, honoring your loved one by experiencing life to the fullest.
- Be patient – It can take a long time to process a major loss and accept life on life’s terms.
- Seek outside help when needed – Don’t be afraid to seek help if your grief seems too much to bear.
It is important to remember that someday the pain will lessen, although it does not seem like that will ever happen in the early stages of grief. At some point, although you will never completely lose the feeling of loss, the important legacy left behind will be the cherished memories of your loved one that will sustain you.
There are numerous websites and resources available for support in dealing with grief, including local mental health professionals, medical centers, counseling centers and religious institutions, including the following:
Grieving.com – Forums at grieving.com provides a community where you can share with others on both general topics as well as specific grief issues such as loss of a partner.
Recover from Grief – This website has helpful information about the process of grief and tools you can utilize in this process.
AARP – Resources are provided on this site including helpful articles on the grieving process.