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Your Grief Jouney


Grief Journey



Death alters the course of daily life for all those closest to the person who has died. If someone close to you has died, you must accept that things will change, whether the change is small or immense. Something irreversible has happened and your life must now follow a different course.


You will face various experiences which will affect you in certain ways until, having worked through them, you arrive at point where your life is once again moving steadily in a positive direction.






Normal grief

Bereavement is a very complex issue. This short chapter describes many of the phases that you may encounter when recently bereaved, but any description of reactions to grief has to be simplified because of the enormous variation from person to person in coping with the situation. Nevertheless, the considerable amount of study which has taken place over the past 25 years has revealed much that is common to the great majority of people.


There is nothing unusual about grieving, it is "normal" and most people will make a "normal" recovery without a great deal of assistance. Some, however, get stuck somewhere in the process of recovery and need help. Others (fortunately, only a few) are so affected by their bereavement that the grief gets out of hand. In such cases, treatment as well as assistance is needed, counsel as well as care. The normal grief processes only, are covered in this section to help you understand how you may be feeling.


Most of the time, bereavement causes a great deal of pain. Many people do not acknowledge this, fearing that they will be marked out as weak and abnormal. Family and friends will often avoid people who have lost partners, parents, children or close friends, usually because they are embarrassed and do not know what to say. They excuse their feelings of embarrassment and helplessness by saying "Grief is a very private affair. I don't want to intrude". So the bereaved are often deserted just when they need most support, which leads them to believe that it is their pain and tears that cause others to shun them. They therefore make determined efforts to "be strong" and suppress their natural emotional responses. More than anything else, this hinders recovery from grief.


Reactions to grief

When loss has occurred and the bereaved person has been diverted from the accustomed course of life, a number of psychological forces come into effect. The different stages of grief that a person might go through include shock, sorrow, anger, apathy and depression, before the process of recovery can begin. Not everyone experiences all of these emotions, and some stages may last longer than others. In other words, everyone is different.


Shock — the primary experience

The initial effect of bereavement is shock. There is a numbness in which the rest of the world often seems to recede, leaving the bereaved person in mental limbo. A common feeling is of the world carrying on but the person no longer feeling part of it. This leads almost immediately into a stage of denial — the strong feeling that death cannot possibly have occurred, that the bereaved person is dreaming, that the doctors have made a mistake. This begins at the moment of loss and has its major impact during the first two to three days. At this stage, people can be very susceptible. This should be recognized and care should be taken when an important decision has to be made — especially regarding the arrangements for the funeral. Dates and times often have to be decided upon quickly, but sufficient time should be allowed before the funeral to avoid making the wrong decisions in haste. When death occurs after a long illness, or where there was ill-feeling between the deceased and the bereaved, the initial response is a feeling of relief, the tension is at last over and done with. This may be accompanied almost at once by a sense of guilt for feeling relieved — talking about this to a sensible and trustworthy friend will help.


Sorrow — the underlying experience

Shock often overlaps with, or is followed by, feelings of sorrow — the sadness which develops as the person becomes aware that an irreversible loss has occurred. Sorrow and pining can have the effects of physical pain, often made worse by the belief that one is supposed to "be strong" and not show any undue signs of emotional disturbance. At this point, the bereaved person needs to be free to express grief with the support of others who will not be too embarrassed or try to suppress the person's tears. In order to make a good recovery, the bereaved person needs to feel this pain, express it and work through it in ways which are appropriate to his or her personality.


But initial sorrow is often accompanied by unreasonable guilt. People often feel guilty because they think they could have done more than they did — had they done more, perhaps the deceased person would not have died — and much reassurance and patience is called for. This often leads to people bargaining with God or with life in general, for example, by promising to be good if only they can wake up to find that it was all a bad dream. The only way to help someone going through these emotions is to root the person firmly in reality, to talk about the death, and to have the person visit the Chapel of Rest, thus allowing a gradual acceptance of the situation to come about in a way that can be coped with. The acute stage of this phase does not usually last for very long, and is sometimes over in two or three weeks. The sorrow may persist, but will generally subside with the passage of time. The guilt (real or imagined) may well last for a long time.


Anger — the developing experience

Many people get very angry when bereaved, usually in an irrational manner. There is anger with God (for letting death happen), with friends and family (for not understanding or for not being bereaved themselves), with themselves (for not coping), and with the deceased (for having died and left them). Sometimes the anger comes before the sorrow and guilt, sometimes after, and is often compounded by a strong and irrational resentment and a certain amount of aggression. (This depends on the person's personality — a very mild person is unlikely to become very aggressive.) Friends need a great deal of patience. They should let the person cool down, then listen to the anger without being defensive or argumentative. This stage of the grief process can last from a few days to several months. It may continue to simmer in the background for a long time, resulting in outbursts of irrational anger at unexpected times. Those on the receiving end should remember that the anger is not directed at them and try not to feel injured or aggrieved.


Apathy, depression and recovery

When the anger calms down a state of apathy often develops. The bereaved person displays an indifference to what is going on around and about them and may show a considerable reluctance to make decisions. Patience and encouragement are needed continuously. Or, there may be feelings of depression. Most people can work through these normal feelings of depression with the support of family and friends, however this support should not be allowed to turn into an unhealthy dependence on the help of others — it is important to encourage people by doing things with them rather than for them so that they will once again be able to do things for themselves. Occasionally, depression can degenerate into acute depression, where professional assistance is called for.


Gradually, even when the pain of bereavement has been acute, a sense of acceptance grows and the bereaved person once again begins to take an interest in life. When it becomes possible for the person to make positive plans for the future and again find pleasure in everyday experiences, the bereaved person is well on the way to recovery. Life will never be the same again, but it can now be lived in a normal healthy manner.


Other common reactions

Shock can also have physical effects, leading to quite genuine symptoms. These are often not recognized as being part of the normal grief process and, as a result, many recently bereaved people worry that they have a physical illness on top of the burden of bereavement.

Headaches are common, as are a continuously dry mouth, weakness, breathlessness, over sensitivity to noise, tightness in the chest and throat, a hollow feeling in the stomach, giddiness and nausea. Hair loss may also occur. Some people lose weight, others put it on, some people are constantly tired, even when they have had sufficient sleep and food.


There are often real feelings of fear, sometimes based on the person's anxiety that he or she will not be able to cope. Absentmindedness and lack of ability to concentrate on anything for very long are also common — sometimes people forget what they are saying in mid-sentence. Memory is frequently affected — facts, names, experiences, all well known, cannot be brought to mind when needed, which can be very upsetting.


All of these are quite normal experiences, and recognizing them as such will greatly assist you to live through them, and come to terms with the reality of bereavement which has occurred.