Those we love don't go away, they walk beside us every day. Unseen, unheard, but always near.
Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful. You may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness you're experiencing will never let up.
These are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and permit you to move on.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one
When a person loses someone important to them, they go through a normal process called grieving. Grieving is natural and expected. Over time, it can help the person accept and understand their loss.
The death of a loved one is an event that all of us are likely to experience during our lifetimes, often on numerous occasions.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one.
Common Symptoms of Grief
While loss affects people in different ways, many experience the following symptoms when they’re grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal—including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs.
- Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting him or her to show up, even though you know he or she is gone.
- Sadness – Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
- Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.
- Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.
- Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.
- Physical symptoms – We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
Allow the feelings
Coping with the loss of a loved one brings up almost every emotion imaginable. There are times when more than one emotion seems to take hold at once, and you may feel as if you're “going crazy.” It's natural to feel this way, as it's normal to experience a number of different feelings.
Gently remind yourself in your time of bereavement and grief that your feelings are yours, and they are well within the norm. It's important to your process to understand that there is no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to your feelings about losing a loved one.
While there may be times as you are coping with loss when you'll wish to be alone, it's important to gather a support group around you for those times when you might need them. Friends, family, a Minister or religious leader, or perhaps even a therapist are all people who can and should be accessed during your grief process. These individuals can be accessed for emotional support as well as physical needs, if required. The death of a loved one often leaves a large hole in the life of the survivor that can be, at least temporarily, occupied by a support team.
Coping with loss
Ideally, a bereaved person will be able to work through the process of grieving. With time and support, they’ll accept and make sense of the loss, work through the pain, and adjust to a new life and identity.
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, the following tips may help you cope with the loss:
• Let yourself feel the pain and all the other emotions, too. Don’t tell yourself how to feel or let others tell you how you should feel.
• Be patient with the process. Don’t pressure yourself with expectations. Accept that you need to experience your pain, your emotions, and your own way of healing − all in your own time. Don’t judge your emotions or compare yourself to others. Remember that no one else can tell you how you should mourn or when to stop.
• Acknowledge your feelings, even the ones you don’t like. Let yourself cry. You need to do both for healing.
• Get support. Talk about your loss, your memories, and your experience of the life and death of your loved one. Don’t think you are protecting your family and friends by not expressing your sadness. Ask others for what you need. Find and talk to others who have lost a loved one.
• Try to maintain your normal lifestyle. Don’t make any major life changes (for example, moving, changing jobs, changing important relationships) during the first year of bereavement. This will let you keep your roots and some sense of security.
• Take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise. Physical activity is a good way to release tension. Allow yourself physical pleasures that help you renew yourself, like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods.
• Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs. This can harm your body as well as dull your emotions. It’s also likely to slow your recovery and may cause new problems.
• Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. Compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others is important in healing.
• Give yourself a break from grief. You must work through it, but you don’t need to focus on grief all the time. Find distractions like going to a movie, dinner, or a ball game; reading a good book; listening to music; or getting a massage or manicure.
• Prepare for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries knowing that strong feelings may come back. Decide if you want to keep certain traditions or create new ones. Plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom. Do something to honor the memory of your loved one.
• Join a bereavement support group. Other people can encourage, guide, and comfort you. They can also offer practical advice and information, and help you feel less alone. If you can’t find a group near you, online groups may be helpful.
How can I help a child with the death of a loved one?
Children grieve just as adults do. Any child old enough to form a relationship will experience some form of grief when a relationship is severed. Adults may not view a child behavior as grief as it is often demonstrated in behavioral patterns which we misunderstand and do not appear to us to be grief such as "moody," "cranky," or "withdrawn."
When a death occurs children need to be surrounded by feelings of warmth, acceptance and understanding. This may be a tall order to expect of the adults who are experiencing their own grief and upset. Caring adults can guide children through this time when the child is experiencing feelings for which they have no words and thus can not identify. In a very real way, this time can be a growth experience for the child, teaching about love and relationships.
The first task is to create an atmosphere in which the child's thoughts, fears and wishes are recognized. This means that they should be allowed to participate in any of the arrangements, ceremonies and gatherings which are comfortable for them. First, explain what will be happening and why it is happening at a level the child can understand. A child may not be able to speak at a funeral service, but would benefit greatly from the opportunity to draw a picture to be placed in the casket or displayed at the service. Be aware that children will probably have short attention spans and may need to leave a service or gathering before the adults are ready. Many families provide a non-family attendant to care for the children in this event.
The key is to allow the participation, not to force it. Forced participation can be harmful. Children instinctively have a good sense of how involved they wish to be. They should be listened to carefully. Parents who openly talk about their grief, cry, and express frustration, send a message to their children that it is okay for them to do so. Because children cannot carry the burden of all your pain, try to maintain times for play and talk without conversation about the dead person. Balance, as best you can, the sharing of sad feelings, with the sharing of more pleasant activities and times shared together. This lets your surviving children know how much they are valued.
If your child has had an experience with death, (perhaps a pet, or a grandparent), it may be easier to explain the death. Here are some questions which many children wonder about and some suggested answers:
Is death like sleeping? Death is different from sleeping. When you go to sleep your body still works. You still breathe and your heart beats and you dream. When a person is dead, his or her body doesn't work anymore. Remember that children who are told that death is like sleeping may develop fears about falling asleep.
Why did they die? If the death was from an illness, explain that the person's body couldn't fight the sickness any more. It stopped working. Make sure your children know that if they get the flu or a cold, or if mom or dad get sick, their bodies can fight the illness and get better. Their bodies still work. Explain that people do not usually die when they get sick. Most people get better. If the death was from an accident, explain that the person was hurt so badly that his or her body stopped working. Explain that when most people get hurt they can get better and live a long, long time.
Will you die? Will I die? Children are looking for reassurance. Let your child know that most people live for a very long time. Children also need to know who will take care of them if a parent or guardian dies. Let them know who to go to for help if there is a family emergency.
Did I do or think something bad to cause the death? Maybe your child had a fight with the person who died. Maybe your child wished this person wasn't around to get so much attention from other family members. Maybe your child said, "I wish you'd go away from me," or even "I wish you were dead." Reassure your children that saying and wishing things do not cause a death to happen.
Will they come back? "Forever" is a hard concept for young children to understand. They see that people go away and come back. Cartoon characters die and then jump up again. Young children may need to be told several times that the person won't be back ever.
Are they cold? What will they eat? Young children may think the dead body still has feelings and walks and talks under the ground. Some children might imagine a cemetery as a sort of "underground apartment complex." You may need to explain that the body doesn't work anymore. It can't breathe, walk, talk or eat anymore.
Why did God let this happen? Answer questions related to God and your faith according to your own beliefs. You may also want the counsel of your clergy. It's okay to not have answers for everything. Children can accept that you, too, have a hard time understanding some things. It is best to avoid suggesting God "took" someone to be with him, or that "only the good die young". Some children may fear that God will take them away too. They may try to be "bad" so that they won't die, also.
We sincerely hope that this has been beneficial for you, and your loved ones. We invite you to contact us with any questions.