Bereavement

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."  Matthew 5:4

 

Moving through Grief

 

Grief is an intense and complex journey for most of us. We cannot complete this journey overnight, as much as we'd like to. To move successfully through our grief we need to take an active role in our own healing processes. It helps to understand how human beings respond to loss, for most of us have questions about whether our feelings and reactions are normal. Let us look at the journey through grief. Each part of the journey requires something of us.

 

We react to our loss with shock, numbness and disbelief. When we experience a trauma, one of our first reactions is to shut down, or go numb. This cushions us from overwhelming feelings during the first weeks. Even an expected death is a shock. We just can't know how a particular loss is going to feel until the loss actually occurs. Part of us may feel that the loss is unreal, a nightmare or a terrible mistake. How long it takes each of us to come out of our numbness depends on the individual circumstances surrounding each loss.

 

We begin the difficult journey of understanding that our loss is real. As the numbness wears off, we begin to realize what the loss is going to mean to us. This explains why many bereaved persons feel worse after a few months have gone by. The reality of this loss starts to sink in. Part of us may still be looking for our deceased loved one to come back into our life again. We begin some of out hardest grieving at a point where the support we got immediately after the death has tapered off.

 

We allow ourselves to experience the pain of our grief in all of its forms. There are no shortcuts through the pain of loss. We can "stuff down" feelings and delay grieving, but the grief will not diminish until we burn through it by experiencing it fully. In a culture where we often equate pain with weakness, it is important to give ourselves permission to allow our pain its natural course. Below are some common emotions and behaviors that make up the pain of grief.

 

Typical Experiences During Grief

Emptiness

Change in Appetite

Anger

Disorganization

Extreme loneliness

Guilt

Disorientation

Increased irritability

Helplessness

Indecisiveness

Feeling abandoned

Depression

Vulnerability

Inability to concentrate

Panicky thoughts

Anxiety

Loss of interest in life

Relief

Change in sleep patterns

 

Questioning of belief system

 

Pain is also expressed through our physical body. It is common to have strong physical reactions to grief. It is always a sound idea to get a physical exam to assess the physical impact of the stress we've been under and to relieve fears about our own health.

 

We identify how our environment has changed and begin to develop new roles, routines, and skills in response to the changes. Losses tear apart the fabric of the routines around which our life is structured. They rob us of comfortable roles. Any changes, especially involuntary ones, disrupt the flow of our life. Our responsibilities may seem to have doubled overnight. Grieving the loss of our routines is an essential part of healing. It is helpful to minimize change elsewhere in our life when we are faced with a loss. It is also important to be gentle and patient with ourselves as we establish new roles and routines and take on additional responsibilities. We are often forced to forge a new identity as part of our recovery. We learn what we must do to survive in our changed world.

 

We eventually come to a point where we choose to say "Yes" to life again. Grieving is terribly hard, exhausting work and initially demands much of our energy. When enough healing has occurred, we no longer focus as much of our energy on our loss. At this point, we find renewed energy to invest in the life ahead of us. We come to understand that it is possible for us to achieve a happy full life again, though it will be different from the life before our loss.

 

This handout was developed by Kansas City hospice, underwritten by the Prime Health Foundation.