Grieving comes to most of us at some point in our lives. In fact, statistics show that each person can expect to experience the loss of a loved one once every nine to thirteen years. The resulting sadness may be the most painful of lifes experiences. Because it is painful, however, our eventual adaptation to the loss can bring meaning and integrity to our lives- and this, ultimately, is a gift to us from the one we have lost. It is a reminder to us that the circle is unbroken.
Our ability to adapt to loss is an important feature in the course of our lives. Change can instigate growth. Loss can give rise to gain. If we do not grieve the loss, however, it may drain us of energy and interfere with our living fully in the present. If we are not able to mourn at all, we may spend our lives under the spell of old issues and past relationships- living in the past and failing to connect with the experiences of the present.
Grieving is a process of experiencing our reactions to loss. It is similar to mourning. The term bereavement means the state, not the process, of suffering from a loss. Normal grieving is an expected part of the process of recuperating from a loss. The intensity of the process comes as a surprise to most people- and for many it becomes one of their most significant life experiences. People have their own individual grief responses. No two will experience the process in the same way.
The first reaction to the loss of a loved one, even when the loss is expected, is often times a sense of disbelief, shock, numbness, and bewilderment. The survivor may experience a period of denial in which the reality of the loss is put out of mind. This reaction provides the person some time to prepare to deal with the inevitable pain.
The feeling of numbness may then turn into intense suffering. The person feels empty. There are constant reminders of the one who has been lost. There may be periods of increased energy and anxiety followed by times of deep sadness, lethargy, and fatigue. There may be a period of prolonged despair as the person slowly begins to accept the loss. The one who grieves may find it difficult to feel pleasure and it may seem easier most of the time to avoid other people. The bereaved may dream repeatedly about the lost loved one- or hear their voice or even actually see them. The grieving survivor may adopt some mannerisms of the one who has left.
Sadness may be interspersed with times of intense anger. Many of us have difficulty in expressing anger toward one who has died. However, anger may enter into most of our relationships. We may reproach ourselves for not doing enough to prevent the death or for having treated the deceased badly in the past. The grieving person may become irritable and quarrelsome- and may interpret signs of good will from others as messages of rejection. Normal stressors may become triggers that set off periods of deep anger.
Physical symptoms commonly accompany grief. These include weakness, sleep disturbance, a change in appetite, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, back pain, gastric reflux, or heart palpitations.
Some people may show a “flight into health,” as if the loss was behind them and they had started to move on again. This pattern occurs frequently, especially in a society which encourages quick fixes, even though complete resolution of the grief process can take up to two or three years. To shorten the process by pretending that it has been completed can invite a prolongation of the symptoms…