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Grief and Loss
That crushing, heavy pain deep in your chest. The aching lump in the back of your throat. The stinging eyes. The headaches from crying. Mood swings. Numbness. Nightmares. Gut wrenching pain. Forgetfulness. Heart palpitations. Loss of purpose and emptiness.
They say grief is a healing process. Then why is the hurt so absolutely devastating? It doesn’t feel like healing. To break the bond feels as if we will die ourselves. At some very basic level, we fear our very survival.
We are being crushed, mangled and ripped apart. Our hearts are wounded and nothing seems to lessen the pain. We can become paralyzed with uncertainty and debilitated by pain.
The painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that accepting the loss and resuming your life may seem impossible. Grief is one of the most difficult experiences and human emotions we face.
Struggling with these feelings may mean it is time to speak to a therapist. Therapy helps you to make sense of losses you have experienced and manage the intense feelings associated with loss.
Through grieving the loss, we are able to bring new meaning to our lives, a greater appreciation for the life we have, for those with whom we shared our lives, and those who remain.
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—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief, including:
- Divorce or relationship breakup
- Loss of health
- Losing a job
- Loss of financial stability
- A miscarriageRetirement
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a cherished dream
- A loved one’s serious illness
- Loss of a friendship
- Loss of safety after a trauma
- Selling the family home
The more significant your loss, the more intensely you will experience grief. However, even subtle losses can lead to grief. For example, you might experience grief after moving away from home, graduating from college, changing jobs, your children leaving home, selling your family home, or retiring from a career you loved.
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.
The Difference between Grief and Depression
Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference. Remember, grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.
Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:
- Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Slow speech and body movements
- Inability to function at work, home, and/or school
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
Some tips for dealing with grief…
If you are mourning for a recent loss make sure to make time for feeling the emotions that arise, whether they are anger, sadness, or pain. There is no need to judge these emotions as good or bad and know that it is okay to feel these and they will not last forever as all things come and go. You may even create a little ritual where you spend time with a picture or object connected to the person who has passed.
Friends sometimes get uncomfortable around grief and if they try and make you feel better in the moment, thank them for this, and let them know it is normal and natural to feel how you feel.
Make sure to also take care of yourself during this time, go out on a walk, rest, get enough sleep and make sure to eat healthy.
Try and open your eyes to the delights around you. It could be a smile on a child’s face or your own. Smelling a wonderful flower or maybe tasting your own favorite food. Even in the midst of grief we can be open to the wonders of life.
Know your limits and allow yourself to take a break from feeling when it’s becoming overwhelming, but make sure to let your grief know that you will come back. Make a time to revisit it otherwise it will occupy you all day.
Being altruistic can be a great way to move through grief. Maybe you would like to volunteer, help a friend or make some things for those you care about.
Support has been known to be very helpful and so joining a grief or support group either online or in person can be enormously beneficial.