I recently suffered a loss of someone very important to me and it threw me into the depths of a grief I haven’t experienced in a while. I felt the initial shock and numbness that comes with learning a loved one has died. Followed by an overwhelming flow of tears and pain which continued for several days. I noticed myself wanting to withdraw socially and sleep the day away; my system was exhausted.
It’s important to note that grief looks different for everyone – and this was apparent around me in the way others were mourning the loss. Grief is a unique and nonlinear process. It is not something which has a definitive beginning and end. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma that surrounds the bereavement process and many people feel they should be “over it” by a certain time. This is based on messaging we receive from our societies and cultures. Understanding grief is essential in allowing space for it and to move through it.
What is grief?
When there is loss, a wide range of emotions may show up in response to it. Loss is often thought of as the physical death of a person, however, it can be anything you had a connection to. Other examples of loss include:
Losing a job
Death of a pet
Divorce or breakup
Loss of financial stability
Selling the family home
Loss of a friendship
Lack of emotional support and/or safety as a child
Being displaced from home
Loss of aspects of identity
Loss of safety after a trauma
Loss of health
Other life transitions (ex. changing jobs, moving away from home)
When you are grieving a loss, you may experience:
Withdrawing from others
Changes in appetite
Difficulty focusing or thinking clearly
Aches and pains
These emotions may reduce in intensity over time, but grief can continue to come in waves for months or years after a loss. This can also depend on the type of relationship you had with the person or object lost. As humans, we attach meaning to everything in our lives so a loss can affect our sense of self.
What are common myths about grief?
Grief is something you “get over”.
Grief is actually a process which you go through, not get over. The pain of loss never really goes away, you adapt to it and learn to live with it. Giving yourself time and space allows your brain to process and reduce the pain.
It’s better to hide your emotions when grieving.
Feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster is a natural response to loss. There is no weakness in showing your true feelings as they come up. If you feel like crying, let it out because it will help you release some of the pain.
A loss has to be tragic or severe for you to grieve.
Sudden or tragic loss can certainly complicate grief and lead to profound sadness. However, there is no level of what emotions should look like depending on the type of loss. It’s okay to feel what you feel despite what others may think because it is your experience.
Moving on with your life means you aren’t grieving anymore.
Part of grieving includes accepting that the loss has occurred, which happens in its own way. This doesn’t mean you have forgotten about your loss or can’t be sad about it. Moving on is natural, but grief may continue to show up in memories or at certain times of the year.
How to cope with grief
Coming to terms with loss takes time and can be one of the most difficult life experiences. But research shows that people may find a renewed sense of meaning in their lives out of loss. Helpful strategies to cope with grief and loss can assist in the grieving process.
Here are some ways to deal with loss:
Share your feelings with people you trust
Spend time with people who care about you
Understand that grief is unique to everyone
Acknowledge your pain and loss
Know the difference between grief and depression
Take care of yourself through exercise, nutrition, sleep
Find ways to honour and celebrate memories prior to loss
Practice deep breathing and mindfulness when difficult feelings come up
Reach out to a professional or join a support group
Always remember, if you are grieving a loss, you don’t have to do it alone. Think about the people around you who can be your circle of support as you learn to manage the ups and downs of grief.