How to cope with the loss of a loved one?
Published 5 Mar 2023 • By Claudia Lima
Grief is a feeling of deep sadness that one feels at the loss of a loved one. It is a process that one goes through to ease the pain. Every bereavement is unique, and sometimes it can go on and on, triggering psychological disorders.
What is grief? What are the signs of it? How can one get over it?
Find all the answers in our article!
What is grief, or bereavement? How long does it last?
Grief, or bereavement, refers to physical, psychological, emotional and behavioural reactions to any significant loss, whether of a loved one, a dream, an animal, an object or other. It is a natural reaction to death, divorce, loss of a job or any other major life change.
These reactions can come in many forms, and give rise to a variety of emotions, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt and loneliness.
The causes of grief are, most often, the death of a loved one, a break-up, moving away from home, financial difficulties, loss of employment, illness or injury, loss of a pet, inability to achieve personal goals, or violence.
There are many different forms of grief, each with its own unique characteristics:
- Anticipatory grief comes in anticipation of a loss, for example when a loved one is seriously ill, or when preparing for a divorce,
- Classic grief: a normal grieving process that one goes through; when the period of grieving is over, one goes back to one's life,
- Delayed grief is when a person reacts late to a loss, for example when the death of a loved one is not fully processed until months or years later. This may be a form of protection against too much pain,
- Complex grief is a very intense and persistent grief that prevents a person from functioning normally and is complicated by other emotions such as guilt, anger or even depression,
- Unacknowledged grief is when a person is unable to find social or cultural acceptance for their feelings of grief. People around them do not understand the importance of their loss or minimise it, for example for a pet, a colleague at work, etc,
- Chronic grief, which persists long after the loss and is often a normal part of the grieving process. People who are prone to depression are more prone to this form of grief,
- Pathological grief is characterised by the presence of a physical or mental illness, which develops during the period of grieving.
Other forms also exist, such as absent grief, inhibited grief, existential grief, collective grief, etc.
Grief, depending on its type, lasts on average 6 to 12 months. It will be more or less long and painful depending on the context, the nature of the loss, and the psychological state of the person. When this period is over, the suffering is less acute, even though the feeling of sadness is still present.
The first year of mourning is special, as all usual events are experienced for the first time without the deceased person, or in different circumstances.
What are the manifestations of grief?
Grief can be expressed in many ways. These may include physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual reactions. These manifestations are become less intense over time and eventually fade away. They are not all necessarily expressed by each mourner and vary from person to person.
The most common physical symptoms are:
- Fatigue, muscle weakness,
- Changes in appetite,
- Sleep disturbances,
- Digestive problems,
- Aches and pains, muscle contractions,
- High blood pressure, etc.
There can be many emotional reactions to grief: bitterness, anxiety, boredom, frustration, loneliness, insecurity, feeling of betrayal, etc.
There are also different phases of grief with shock, denial, sadness, guilt, anger and confusion.
Cognitive reactions may include difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, memory problems, confusion, disbelief, shock, as well as denial of reality, auditory and visual hallucinations, etc.
At the social level, a bereaved person may stop their usual activities temporarily or permanently and become isolated. At the spiritual level, there may be a questioning of faith, a search for meaning and a feeling of disconnection from one's usual beliefs.
Other behaviours may emerge such as addictions (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders), automatisms, hyperactivity, crying, withdrawal, more dreams and/or nightmares, etc.
How to cope with grief?
Grief is a difficult experience to overcome. Nevertheless, it is part of our life. To overcome it, you need to find ways to cope with the loss and the pain it causes.
Here are some tips for coping with grief:
Grief cannot be avoided or denied. It is important to acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to feel sadness, anger, and other emotions that come with grief.
Share your emotions
Keeping everything to yourself is harmful, you need to be able to confide in your family and friends, or why not write in a journal to express your grief.
Give yourself time
The grieving process takes time. It takes time to accept the death of a loved one, for example, and to get on with life. Grief is an inner journey that is neither rational nor linear.
Ask for help
Get psychological help, or join a support group that can provide adequate advice.
Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is an important part of the recovery process. You need to make sure you get good quality sleep, eat well, exercise regularly and spend time doing things you love. You also need to rest.
Grief is part of everyone's life. It is important to remember that there is no perfect way to approach it. Each journey is unique and with support from family, friends or a specialist, it is possible to cope and recover, however long and difficult it may be.