In the last few months, I have felt intense grief multiple times.
Once due to the irreversible breakdown of a cherished friendship and the latest due to the loss of my pet. The pain I felt due to the loss of a relationship seems minuscule compared to what I am feeling with Hela’s disappearance. (Hela is my pet dog, who went missing a few days ago.) But, I know that’s not true. When I was working through the loss of that friendship, it felt unbearable. I know, I am in the acceptance stage of that grief. I have accepted the event (of losing a friendship) and the changes it brought to my life and have moved on. But, I am still working through Hela’s disappearance, and this has been so incredibly hard. There is no closure, no finality. There is a constant hope which doesn’t even let you process your pain.
I have lost 3 KGs in the last 10 days, my sleep cycle is a yo-yo, between acute insomnia to over sleeping and feeling constantly drugged and tired. I find no joy in any of the activities I used to enjoy before. Whatever I do, is forced so that there is some semblance of a routine to my life. Eating is to stay alive, chores to keep the house and family functioning in the most basic sense.
Most of us have gone through some form of grief at some point. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, serious illness in the family, even loss of a life long dream and so many more. There is no comparison of what’s worse of it all. Grief is unique to an individual, based on their relationship with that person or the intensity with which they loved and wanted what they lost.
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 your grief will be. Whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was significant to you, it’s normal to grieve the loss you’re experiencing.
The Grieving Process
I had people telling me to be strong, not cry, consoling me saying it would be okay, saying everything has a reason, some of them even yelling at me and asking me to not mourn and move on. All this within a few days of her disappearance. There is no “right method” or the “formula” to grieve.
Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.
Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
The most common mistake people make or asked to make is to “be strong” for the sake of your family or others around. Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
People try to ignore the pain and keep themselves busy and believe it will eventually fade away. Wrong! Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. I have cried for hours together, let it wash over me and feel the loss. This post is also a way for me to cope with my loss, a way to process my feelings. Writing what I am going through helps me work through the pain.
On the other end, if you don’t cry people wonder if you are even feeling grief. Crying is the normal reaction to grief but not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
And the worst, feeling that if you move on, you are forgetting your loss.
Moving on means you’ve accepted your loss—but that’s not the same as forgetting. You can move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you. In fact, as we move through life, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the people we are.
Symptoms of Grief
Grieving is the outward expression of your loss. Your grief is likely to be expressed physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For instance, crying is a physical expression, while depression is a psychological expression. It is very important to allow yourself to express these feelings. At first it may seem helpful to separate yourself from the pain, but you cannot avoid grieving forever. Someday those feelings will need to be resolved or they may cause physical or emotional illness.
Many people report physical symptoms that accompany grief. Stomach pain, loss of appetite, intestinal upsets, sleep disturbances and loss of energy are all common symptoms of acute grief. Of all life’s stresses, mourning can seriously test your natural defense systems. Existing illnesses may worsen or new conditions may develop.
Some emotions you may experience is:
These feelings are normal and common reactions to loss. You may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of your emotions or how swiftly your moods may change. You may even begin to doubt the stability of your mental health. But be assured that these feelings are healthy and appropriate and will help you come to terms with your loss.
Stages of Grief
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages—and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.
Start the Healing
- Understand that grief is normal. Grief is the normal, expected response to loss — the intense pain, sadness, disbelief, anger or guilt. It’s the tears, numbness and physical exhaustion — the rush of memories and the yearning for the person you lost. It’s also normal to be surprised by the intensity of your grief.
- Allow yourself to mourn. Mourning is the outward or public expression of grief, a means of sharing grief with people who also are grieving or who want to support you. Whatever form it takes, mourning is a critical process that can help you lessen the intensity of grief and help you adapt to your loss.
- Look to others for support. It’s not uncommon to feel alone in your grief or want to avoid others. However, the support of family members, friends or a spiritual leader is often essential in moving on from the severe, immediate grief after a death. Let people know when you need someone to listen and be open to their offers of company.
- Take care of yourself. Grief commonly results in disrupted sleep, a loss of appetite and a lack of interest in everyday tasks — all factors that can affect your health and well-being. Be mindful of your health and daily habits. Try to get adequate sleep, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. You might find that including a friend in meal or exercise routines can keep you motivated. Consider a medical checkup to ensure your health has not declined, especially if you have any existing health conditions.
- Don’t make major decisions while grieving. Grief might cloud your ability to make sound decisions. If possible, postpone big decisions, such as moving, taking a new job or making major financial changes. If you must make decisions right away, seek input from a trusted family member or friend.
- Remember that grief is unpredictable. Grief doesn’t move along a predictable path or at a fixed pace. The overwhelming grief following your loss will become more of a cycle of grief. And over time your grief will likely become more subdued, or it may feel less constant as if it’s moved into the background of your emotions. But long after a loss, you may also find yourself caught off guard by a moment of profound grief, for example, on the anniversary, during holidays or on your loved one’s birthday.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
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 still 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, include:
- 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 home, work, and/or school
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
When to seek professional help for grief
If you’re experiencing symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.
Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:
- Feel like life isn’t worth living
- Wish you had died with your loved one
- Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
- Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
- Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
- Are unable to perform your normal daily activities
Helping Others Grieve
If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help them through the grieving process.
Share the sorrow. Allow them, even encourage them, to talk about their feelings of loss and share memories of the deceased.
Don’t offer false comfort. It doesn’t help the grieving person when you say “it was for the best” or “you’ll get over it in time.” Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
Offer practical help. Baby-sitting, cooking and running errands are all ways to help someone who is in the midst of grieving.
Be patient. Remember that it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk.
Encourage professional help when necessary. Don’t hesitate to recommend professional help when you feel someone is experiencing too much pain to cope alone.
Looking to the Future
Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.
It has for me with my past losses. Doesn’t mean I have forgotten those loved ones or situations. They have become an important part of my life, my personality and the person I am today. Even as I write this, I still have hopes of being reunited with Hela one day but, that doesn’t lessen the pain. At the same time, I have moved slightly forward, not letting the grief and pain rule my life. It hurts like a bitch, but I am able to go on with my day, eat, sleep and try to be the person I was.