It's alright to cry
Whenever we are confronted by a loss. particularly the loss of bereavement; we experience one of the strongest human emotions, that of grief.
When someone who has shared part of our life dies, whether a family member or a close friend, the emotions we feel can leave us desolate and confused.
This is normal, it happens to everyone - and it's quite alright to feel emotionally devastated.
Grief is the natural response to a significant loss. It is not just a temporary state of mind - it is a whole process that may take anything up to five years to work through.
How well we handle and understand it will determine whether the loss will completely overwhelm us. or whether we will find the ability to cope.
Many people find it difficult to grieve in today's society, but we can grow as human beings if we are allowed to grieve fully.
There are many passages in the grieving process, incorporating a number of physical, emotional and mental states. With some people, these passages are quite distinct - with others they are not. Some people work their '~way through in sequence, others struggle and go forward and then seem to go backwards many times as they "work through" the process.
Shock - disbelief
Shock is the first reaction to the news of the death of a loved one, and it is often total disbelief if that death is sudden.
Shock is the body's 'way of coping with traumatic situations in life. It is a period that allows us time to gather our resources to cope with the following passages of grief.
Emotional release - It's alright to cry
At this point, we are unable to hold in the intense emotion which the loss has created and it is natural for that emotion to find release through crying.
Many men find it difficult to cry because they have been brought up to believe that it isn't "manly". But holding in our emotions can make the recovery process more difficult.
Loneliness - feeling low
Almost everyone feels this loneliness, a sense of complete separation from the person who is no longer alive. We feel really low in spirits and don't know what to do or where to go to find relief.
It is important to realize that this is normal. It's alright to feel low and alone; even if we have plenty of family and friends around to support us.
Physical symptoms of distress
The pressures of coping with bereavement may sometimes cause our bodies to react in the form of headaches, backaches, asthma or some other illness, sometimes even reflecting the symptoms of the deceased.
A visit to the doctor may be wise, but often it is just nature's way of telling us to "take it easy for a while" until we can get our whole bodies back into gear again.
Pining - unable to cope with today
The friendship and pleasures which we shared with the deceased pre-occupy us - nothing else seems to give us comfort!
Many people fear that they may be going "crazy" with their grief, but knowing that this is a normal human reaction which is part of the recovery process will help us through this pain.
Now is the time to reach out to other people - it's not that easy to do but it is important to keep trying.
Many people closely involved with a person who was ill for some time before death, can find themselves emotionally drained and physically exhausted.
For many there is a feeling of relief that the deceased's pain and suffering has finally ended. It's alright to feel relieved - it's quite normal. We can accept that relief without feeling guilty.
Sense of guilt
When we have lost someone who was dear to us, many of us take on the blame for what has happened. "But I only spoke to him yesterday!" "I could have tried to stop her driving that night!" "If only I had been there!" These are all typical reactions to the death and all quite normal. Whether real or imagined, all feelings of guilt hurt the ones who are grieving and we need to accept that the blame is not ours for something out of our control.
As we gradually turn our feelings away from ourselves, many of us can experience intense anger: towards the person who has died - "how could he leave me like this?''; towards the medical profession - "why didn't the doctors save her?"; and even towards God - "if He is a loving God, how could He let them die?" it's alright to feel angry. It's quite normal and it is important not to suppress these feelings. It is also important not to let our anger get out of control, but to direct it in a positive way.
Where possible, sharing these feelings with a compassionate listener will help.
Inability to return to normal activity
Although by now we have been through the worst of the emotional upheaval, it is still difficult to return to normal activity. We may become apathetic and lacking in energy, but this isn't permanent.
It does help if we can share our memories with others by talking about the life and death of the deceased.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Gradually we can now start picking up the threads and some of the activities we enjoyed before and try to re-establish a life that has some meaning. Most of us need to move through the various passages of our grief, in whatever order they come, so that we can finally begin to build a new life.
At last life becomes bearable again and we can "re-join the human race' , although we will never be the same as before.
It is now important to have enough self-esteem to recognize our own capabilities and strengths, as well as having faith in others to help us cope.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
The passages of grief may happen like a whirlwind, some may go unrecognized while others will not apply to everyone. What is important is not to get stuck in a prolonged and unproductive grief feelings.
If this happens, it may be helpful to talk to someone who has had training in the area of grief, and special bereavement counselors may be reached through AFDA funeral directors. Understanding clergy may also be of assistance.
How can we help those who are grieving
Grieving people need someone to listen, and all the care, encouragement and support they can get to help them re-establish their lives.
Some of their most important needs are:
- the need to feel SUPPORT
- the need to express FEELINGS
- the need to move towards RE-ESTABLISHIMENT and GO ON LIVING
In other words, TO HELP A FRIEND IN GRIEF, we need to be:
- AWARE - working through grief is a normal and necessary part of life that can take an average of 2-5 years to work though.
- THERE - we can't solve this problem, but just being around to listen and provide support will help.
- SENSITIVE - our friends have suffered a deep loss, even if we don't see it as such. We need to journey with them through their pain, not try to take it away.
- HUMAN - we need to allow our friends to openly express all their feelings without judging them. Nobody has to justify their feelings - they are quite normal!
- READY - to listen when the story is told over and over again. Talking about the deceased by name is a vital step towards recovery.
- PATIENT - mourning the loss of a loved one take time.