When we lose a loved one, we enter a season of grief. How long that season lasts and how deeply we are affected will vary, depending on the person and the situation. For a long time, it was believed we all progress through stages of grief and reach ‘closure’, after which we can ‘move on’ with our lives. Psychologists and counsellors have more recently seen that while this is a way to process certain losses we experience because of change, this does not reflect the healthiest way to grieve a bereavement.
What is recognised now is that each person is different, and we will experience grief in different ways. Even experiencing grief differently to other members of our family. How you are wired, what kind of life experiences you have had, how you cope with change and loss, what your personality is like, and how you process significant events in your life, will all have an impact on the way you grieve.
Furthermore, the relationship you personally had with the loved one who died will be different to anyone else’s relationship with that person. You shared moments, times, experiences and memories with that person that no one else had. You connected with them in a unique way, so you will miss them uniquely. Each relationship is different and so how we grief will be different.
Having said all that, there will be some general experiences that may often follow on from the death of a loved one. It is very normal to experience some of the following at times in the days, weeks, and months after a significant loss:
Experiencing grief emotionally:
Feelings of sadness and sorrow that can ebb and flow in depth, intensity, and length. Sometimes people say they feel very helpless, unable to change the situation and can experience a sense of hopelessness.
Experiencing grief physically:
Lack of sleep is very common after a loss. We may also lose our appetite and feel weary and tired. Tears may come, sometimes at unexpected moments.
Experiencing grief mentally:
We can experience a ‘fight, freeze or flight’ flood of adrenaline initially after a loss. This can affect our capacity to think clearly. We may find it hard to make decisions and find that we are forgetting things we would not usually forget. We may also find ourselves going over and over the situation. We can experience thoughts and feelings of guilt that we did not do more.
Experiencing grief spiritually:
A loss can really make us doubt or question our faith. We can wonder how or why things happened and where was God in this situation? These are real and very valid questions and should be considered and thought through. It is important to be able to tell God how you feel and ask those questions, even if you may never know the answers. On the other hand, we may find our dependence on God strengthened. Finding comfort in God’s presence and Word can really help us too. If we have strong connections with a church family, we can find great support there.
Experiencing grief relationally:
Initially after a loss we may find we withdraw relationally from all but a very few people closest to us. It becomes ‘too hard’ to socialise and be normal with friends and colleagues. We are left numb by ordinary conversations and feel very demotivated to socialise. This is completely normal. What is important is to have one or two people with whom you can share with, cry with, and simply be with when you need to. To totally isolate for too long will leave you vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the grief.
In conclusion, grief can be an overwhelming experience affecting every other area of our lives. To understand that there are many ways to grieve helps us realise that what we are experiencing is quite normal. If you are struggling, do reach out to your local doctor and to the minister of your church.