Grief and loss

An unfortunate area of mental stress that virtually everyone will have to face at some point in life is the loss of a loved one.

Losing someone we care about is understandably one of the more difficult of human experiences and how we cope with the feelings of sadness and mourning that accompany this experience can affect our mental and physical health in the future.

One of the first things to understand about grief and loss is that the experience is different for everyone and can be affected by a large number of factors. Obviously, the nature of the loss will affect how a person experiences it.

Feelings of grief would be different when losing an elderly grandparent than when losing a young child or spouse and the way in which the loss occurred can also play a part in how grieving is experienced – if a loved one dies as a result of a violent crime or commits suicide, the feelings surrounding the loss would differ from those surrounding a death due to terminal illness.

Our personalities, coping styles, previous life experience and level of support we have can also all affect the way in which we will deal with the loss of a loved one.

Grief is a complicated experience and no two people will experience it in identical ways – but there are some elements of grief that are experienced by many people and it may help to know you are not completely alone.

Some symptoms that are common in grieving situations can include some combination of the following: numbness or the feeling that the situation isn’t really happening; expectations for the return of the deceased and the ability to resume life as usual; difficulty paying attention or remembering things; feelings of anger, injustice, frustration or helplessness about the situation; feelings of emptiness, loneliness or despair; and feelings of guilt about the situation or the relationship with the deceased.

Along with emotional symptoms, grief can also bring some physical signs such as difficulty sleeping, weight gain or loss; low energy, fatigue, headaches, chest pain, racing heart, digestive problems or hair loss.

There is no definitive cycle or timeline for grief. For some people a month or two may bring hope for life to return to some kind of normalcy and for others, the feelings of sadness may linger. The important thing is to ensure you are surrounded by emotional support and to allow yourself to experience your feelings.

Many of these signs and symptoms are similar to those experienced in clinical depression and some of you may be wondering where the line is drawn between sorrow at having lost a loved one and true depression.

The differences are often mainly quantitative. If the feelings go on longer than normal or seem to be more severe, then normal grief may be morphing into depression. If you are not sure consult a professional.

As many as two in every 10 people will develop depression in the year following the death of a loved one and a few symptoms to be aware of include feeling that life is meaningless; inability to find anything pleasing or positive; feeling as though you are drowning in despair with no sense of future; inability to function in every day life; or persistent thoughts of ending your life.

If you experience these feelings or your deep feelings of sorrow do not begin to lessen after a few months, you should seek help from a professional.

Unfortunately, death is an inevitable part of life and not something we can avoid. Have the courage to experience your feelings, take care of yourself and surround yourself with support from friends, family, a formal support group, therapist or grief counselor.

 

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