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Understanding Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

What are the effects of grief, loss, and bereavement on bereaved persons?

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Grief, Loss & Bereavement

Bereavement, grief, and loss are inevitable truths in life. Death will always exist as long as there is life.

The loss of a loved one is accompanied by feelings of grief and secondary losses.

At some point, everyone must deal with these harsh realities of life.

One of the most difficult things in life is losing a loved one; whether it is a spouse, parent, sibling, or dear friend.

 

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Overview

“The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.”  English psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes

We respond to grief differently depending on the nature and circumstances of the death, our relationship with the deceased, our cultural and religious experiences. All of these factors combine to make the grieving process unique.

In your journey through your grieving process, it is possible for you to learn how to carry the pain of grief while moving forward with your life. In order to cope with loss, grief and bereavement, you must understand how they affect your life.

We realise that this understanding of grief, loss, and bereavement isn’t just for people whose loved ones have passed away. In addition, it may also be helpful to those supporting someone who has been bereaved, such as friends and family.

 

Our comprehensive guide to understanding grief, loss, and bereavement is divided into three sections, which include information on:

Frequently Asked Questions on Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

  • Effects of grief
  • Grieving common roadblocks
  • Stages of grief

Recognising and dealing with complicated grief

How to recognise incomplete grief?

Coping with grief after the death of a loved one

Who is the understanding grief, bereavemet and loss content for?

Since we gain understanding when we gather information, we have written this to provide you with information about grief, loss, and bereavement.

We hope that this guide article will go a long way toward assisting you in understanding grief, loss, and bereavement so that you can gain a sense of control over it.

Frequently Asked Questions on Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

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What is Grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss is further classified as:

  1. Physical, which involves the loss of a loved one, i.e. spouse, parents, child, etc., or someone you shared a close bond with.
  2. Life events, such as divorce.
  3. Occupational, which involves losing your job or financial status, etc.

Is grief one of life’s greatest teachers?

It is true that grief is one of the greatest teachers of life. In times of grief, a person begins to question every decision he or she has made in life. 

The bereaved person assesses everything. It’s like learning how to live in the world again, how to deal with small things, and how to cope without being overwhelmed by sorrow.

When you allow grief to flow naturally, face the pain and express the emotions as they are, you will find that grief can be transformational.

 

What are the physical symptoms and effects of Grief on the body?

Grief is usually thought of as an emotion, but in fact it can have significant physical effects as well. These grief physical effects include:

  • Insomnia: Lack of sleep due to shock and pain. People who lack sleep suffer from physical appearance problems as well as problems with their ability to handle daily life tasks.
  • Oversleeping: Some people seek refuge from their grief by staying asleep all the time, trying to run away from their thoughts and reality.
  • Weight loss/ Weight gain: Weight loss or weight gain occurs because of a grief-induced lack of self-care. In some instances, people overeat to relieve stress, while in others, their appetites decrease to the point of being unable to eat at all.
  • Aches, pain, or discomfort:The first couple of months after a loss can be filled with physical aches and discomforts such as headaches, migraines, heart pain, edema, back pain, neck pain, and overall muscle pain.
  • Lowered immunity: In the months following the death of a loved one, you may become sick more frequently.
  • Fatigue: Grieving extracts all the energy from you as you feel devoid of energy to perform normal tasks.
  • Nervousness/ anxiety: It is possible to feel confused, anxious, and less trusting around others.

 

Does grief make us selfish?

The pain of losing a loved one, mourning their passing, and continuing to live life without them can be unbearable. During all this, a bereaved person is learning to relive life. 

Passengers on an airplane are advised to take care of themselves first when in an emergency. Likewise, when a loved one has died, you should take care of yourself first. 

Taking time to grieve is not selfish. Take the necessary steps to ensure you heal and learn to adjust to the new world without your loved one.

It’s possible that those not grieving might think of the bereaved person as selfish. The person, as a result, may be treated impatiently by the rest of the community, which prolongs the grieving process. 

Grief that is not addressed adequately can trap a bereaved person within an interminable circle of grief and prevent them from learning how to cope with the loss of a loved one. For them, this pain is their world and the world outside that pain is silent.

It is not uncommon for bereaved people to be rushed to move on after death. There is a lot to learn about normalising grief and making society more sensitive to death.

 

How long does it take to stop mourning a loved one? What is the average length of grief?

The process of coping with the loss of a loved one is difficult, and since everyone’s grief is unique, everyone’s feelings vary over time.

Grief has no time frame of how long it should last or how it should feel at a certain point in time. For example, one may feel as if it happened yesterday, or it may seem as if it happened a lifetime ago!

You will always hold in your heart the memories, emotions, and feelings of the person who was once part of your life. As these emotions become a part of us, we learn to live with them and grow with them.

 

How long will it take for my grief to end?

According to an unknown author: “Grief never ends. But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith—it is the price of love.”

Grief is a heartbreaking journey of growth. It’s a journey to rearrange all the broken pieces of your heart one by one 

By taking a step each day, you keep transforming and learning how to live and cope with grief. Eventually, you learn to live with the grief and the loss you suffered becomes a part of you.

 

Can Grief become inconsolable?

When you are inconsolable, you are so sad or disappointed that it is impossible for anyone to make you feel better. The pain of grief is never gone, it only becomes easier to deal with. The pain of grief is never truly over.

You feel an emptiness that never goes away, but it becomes more tolerable as you take in the pain, face it, and cherish all the memories of your loved one so that you can move forward in life. As you move forward with your life, you learn to make your own, one without the one you lost.

 

What are the common roadblocks when grieving?

A “grief roadblock” can be described as certain emotions or complicated actions that act as a barricade in healthy grieving. Such emotions include guilt, anger, envy, bitterness among others.

After the death of a loved one, we may come across feelings of pent-up anger, regrets from all the experiences and guilt that may halt accepting the loss of your loved one and moving forward with grief. 

All these emotions are a natural reaction to your loss and everyone grieves differently based on their experience:

  1. Anger: starts in the very early stages of grief because of the heart-aching experience, as one looks for reasons as to why this happened. One expresses his anger, emotions, pent-up suffering on the lost loved one, family members or God and religion.
  2. Guilt/depression: The feeling of not being there for the loved one or not being able to spend time with him/her etc. These feelings of remorse combined with the memories leach onto your heart as you keep grieving, thinking about what you should have done.

Acceptance is the key to life; know that loss, grief and bereavement are inevitable. So, accept your emotions, go easy on yourself and live the life you dreamt of living with your spouse, mother, father, etc.

 

What is the difference between mourning and grieving?

These terms are used interchangeably by many people, despite having a critical difference.

Grief is like a container storing all your emotions, feelings and visual memories of the trauma. Grief is a personal experience and has an internal meaning to the experience of loss. 

Mourning can be described as “grief gone public” or the external manifestation of grief. We also associate it with various rituals performed in each different culture or religion.

Whilst Grief is universal, it is also unique. Each bereaved person has their way of grieving the death of their loved one. 

The intensity of grief also varies based on our bond with the lost loved one, circumstances of his/her death. The greater the pain, the more your life becomes altered. 

 

How do grief, sadness and sorrow differ?

Grief can be defined as “Love’s unwillingness to let go”. It’s a natural reaction to loss and all the emotions that burst because of the shock are all the natural reactions to such a heart aching tragedy. 

Grief has no timeline and its intensity also varies. Grief changes you and it becomes difficult to be the same person before your grief.

Sadness is an emotion that takes place in the “now” state. When you watch a movie, and you cry, or you feel sad, that’s sadness, and you get over it in an instant. It goes away in an instant, unlike grief.

Sorrow can also be used alongside grief, as it also depicts excellent emotional pain. The word sorrow is used to describe feelings such as loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by the person.

 

Is it possible to die from grief?

Yes, it’s possible that a person may die because of grief. Here, we can take the example of “the widowhood effect” to justify this.

The widowhood effect can be described as the increase in the probability of a person’s death soon after a loved spouse’s death. 

This shows a significant death risk for the widow/widower, particularly in the first three months of their loss. Losing a spouse and then dying shortly after has been termed “dying of a broken heart”. 

This heavy bereavement process makes a widow/widower go through many harsh steps alone that makes them vulnerable both physically and psychologically.

The grieving person is most likely to suffer from symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, anger, and feelings of guilt. 

These psychological symptoms also place a heavy burden physically, and they become significantly more vulnerable. Many even attempt to use risky behaviours and suicide too.

 

What is complicated grief/bereavement? How do we deal with it?

Whilst grief is a normal reaction to such a heart-aching loss, some people face a more substantial and prolonged level of grief known as complicated grief/bereavement.

Complicated grief is considered when the individual’s capacity to resume daily activities and duties is continuously affected after six months of bereavement.

Six months is regarded as the right point for consideration of complicated grief, as research shows that most people can now incorporate bereavement into their lives by this time.

 Complicated grief/bereavement may have some same symptoms as depression:

  1. Intense sorrow, pain over the loss of your loved one.
  2. Not able to accept that your loved one is dead.
  3. Grief gets worse day by day.
  4. Numbness and feeling that your life has no meaning.
  5. Being stuck in the moments of your loved one’s death or memories.
  6. Depression, self-guilt, and sadness.
  7. Isolation and not being able to trust others.
  8. Recurring suicidal thoughts.

Please contact your local GP or call 111 as soon as possible if you believe that your experience is complicated grief. You may also check other bereavement support charities that may help you.

If not adequately dealt with, complicated grief, unbearable grief, and depression can lead to emotional damage, significant health risks, and even suicide.

 

How does grief affect behavioural, social, cognitive and spiritual areas of life?

Behavioural/social:

Grief also targets behavioural/social responses of a person which  includes social withdrawal, avoiding places or reminders of the loved person, massive changes in activity level, a complete focus on the reminders of the loved one and having unrealistic expectations from others.

Cognitive:

Grief also targets the cognitive or thinking capabilities of a person by inducing dreams of the loved person, confusion, disbelief, and hallucinations.

Spiritual:

This includes loss of meaning in life and in search of a new meaning. It can also decrease your faith in religious beliefs or strengthen your religious beliefs.

 

Is there a stage in grief when you become unable to cry? And why could this be the case?

Crying is the outward expression of the pain and yearning that we feel for the loved one. 

Some of the reasons a person may not cry include but not limited to are:

  1. There isn’t a powerful bond between you and the lost person. 
  2. Shock of trauma leaves the person numb. 

The lack of tears does not mean that the bereaved person is not in intense pain and distress. When you feel nothing, the world becomes confusing and, soon after the death of a loved one, this numbness makes it more disturbing as you expect to feel so much.

So, crying out your pain is very important as the state of being “cried out” signifies that the healing process has begun and is near the acceptance phase.

Grief activates a mixture of different emotions in a person based on a person’s shock or the circumstances of the loved one’s death. 

One of these emotions is numbness or feeling devoid of everything or every emotion. This emotion of feeling nothing may be described as Anhedonia.

Anhedonia refers to the loss of interest in everything and being numb or emotionally feeling nothing. 

You may begin to ask yourself questions like: Why am I not able to cry like the others?, Why can’t I express my pain, grief?. 

This feeling of numbness and being devoid of any emotion is a natural response to the shock of grief. But if this numbness prolongs, then please seek professional help to enable you to grieve properly.

 

Is it okay to give money to a grieving person?

It is perfectly okay to support the grieving person financially. The death of a loved one, especially the death of a spouse, has a significant financial impact on the bereaved spouse who has to learn to adjust to the loss of family source of income. 

Here are some gracious ways to hand that money to the grieving family or person.

  1. Start a fundraising campaign.
  2. Contribute towards the funeral costs.
  3. You can also give gift vouchers to the family in need. This can help them with food, clothes, etc., to fulfil the necessities.
  4. You can also help by contributing towards their living expenses such as house rent, utilities, child care costs etc. 

You can offer other practical supports to the bereaved too. It’s about knowing your capability, availability and creating a network of support that offers help in varied shapes and forms.

You may consider if the help needed is within your skillset and if not but you still want to support, then consider outsourcing the help (e.g. cleaning, gardening, etc)

The type of practical support you offer could be grouped into two categories;

  1. One time support
  2. Ongoing or long-haul support

So, pay attention to the situation and act accordingly. Consider all the circumstances and the position of grieving people and then act accordingly.

 

What are the consequences of not grieving, and how can one know if their grief is incomplete?

Grief is our natural way of healing from a traumatic loss, specifically the death of a loved one. If the grief process gets halted, it affects your mental and physical health. 

It will keep interfering with your day-to-day tasks and your mental capacity to perform any healthy activity. A negative cycle will keep you stuck from moving forward.

We can recognise incomplete grief through some common symptoms:

  1. Sudden bursts of anger/irritability: Being annoyed or getting railed up over slight issues that wouldn’t bother you usually. This is a sign of all the pent-up grief hiding within you.
  2. Obsessiveness/emotional rewind: Being obsessed with the death of the loved one, the events that followed that death, are part of normal grieving. But if the obsession prolongs and the person can’t move on from the emotional rewind, this stage symbolises incomplete grief.
  3. Always expecting the worse: After the traumatic experience, it becomes a sort of anxiety or a very heightened fear that something worse will happen to your loved ones.
  4. Overreaction: It’s normal grieving after a trauma, a person prepares himself/herself for future sadness, but those suffering from incomplete grief move to two extremes;
        1. Relying totally on someone to console the pain of the lost loved one. 
        2. Pushing everyone away from themselves.
  1. Adopting Self Harming behaviours: Everyone has their unique capacity to grieve their loss. Some can handle it, and after going through healthy grief, they learn to accept their loss. But some use alcohol, drugs, and other means to comfort themselves, which leads only to self-harm.
  2. Complete Numbness: Pulling the shutter down on the grief results in a numb, empty feeling. This feeling doesn’t symbolise that the grief is over; rather, it is being avoided, which affects the individual’s life by having no will to do anything.

 Is action the only coping mechanism for grief? What sort of action?

Yes, a potential healthy grieving mechanism is “Action”. Now, what does action imply? 

We can describe this action as the will to endure pain and not run away from grief or absorb all the feelings that come in the path of grieving your loved one’s death. 

This action can also be referred to as taking help or doing things  to make peace with your pain. An action also specifies how you handle yourself physically to cope with grief using exercise or other methods.

Grief is a treacherous journey filled with emotions and memories of our loved one, where facing pain is necessary, and the more we love the person, the more intense our grief will be. If we run away or try to shut our grief, it will only result in more complications like incomplete grief.

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What Are the Stages of Grief?

The five stages of grief are :

Denial: 

Denial according to Elisabeth is the first stage of grief when the bereaved person refuses to believe the loss and pretends like it hasn’t happened. It’s the emotional coping mechanism to the overwhelming shock.

At first, the pain is so intense that it all feels like a dream to you and you keep hoping someone would wake you up. Denying grief is a defence mechanism that makes the entire scene go numb, and it leaves you to your thoughts, gradually absorbing all the circumstances that just occurred.

Anger: 

In this stage, the bereaved person uses anger as a masking effect. The bereaved are easily triggered and even think about getting revenge from whoever or whatever they perceive to cause that loss. 

All the emotional discomfort, confusion, and pent-up feelings burst at this stage. It’s a masking mechanism letting out all the pain and grief. As the pent-up grief subsides, you think more rationally about all the emotions and events.

Bargaining:  

The feeling of helplessness and vulnerability makes you desperate to change the outcomes somehow. You create circumstances “What if” or “if I had” you go through all your moments to find something that could have changed the outcome of grief.

Bargaining in some is also the 7th stage in the seven-step grief model in which the bereaved person looks for the impossible ways to reverse their loss like making plea bargains with their high-power to regain control of their life.

Depression: 

During this stage, the bereaved person feels extreme hopelessness and loses the zest for life. After moving past the rage and asking high-power to reverse the outcome, reality sets in and can lead to both sadness and clinical depression.

At this stage, the emotional panic and the anger fade, and the loss feels more natural and unavoidable, as you now face a new sense of confusion and grief. These feelings make you retreat to just yourself, and the depression after losing a loved one can turn into a highly isolating one.

Acceptance: 

The last stage in grief stage theory is acceptance in which the bereaved person comes to terms with their loss and it becomes more manageable. It doesn’t mean that the grief is over, or the happy phase is going to start.

The vague reality and the confusion becomes inevitable as one accepts the pain, grief, and suffering as a part of his destiny.

Grief has no map or a specific route, making it familiar for everyone. Therefore, every bereaved person can go through the different stages of grief at different times and grieve the death of their loved one uniquely.

 

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller

How to cope with grief after the death of a spouse/ loved one?

Here are some helpful tips on coping with grief:

Losing a spouse/loved one is one of the most heart-aching experiences one goes through in his/her life. It’s an overwhelming burden of uncertainty and confusion. These are some tips that may help ease your pain:

Give yourself space: 

So, it’s natural to feel confused, overwhelmed and lost. Allow yourself to mourn, as it will help you express your pain and is an essential part of healing.

Everyone has their unique way of grieving: 

Try not to compare your grief with someone else’s grief, so take each day as a baby step to grieve at your own time.

Share your feelings: 

Let everything out of your heart and allow yourself to speak your heart out. You can do this through any combination of the list below: 

  1. Lean on to your support network/system of family and friends to share your feelings and memories of your loved one. 
  2. Become a part of a grief support group, share your experience, feelings and share mutual support for each other. 
  3. You may seek the professional help of grief counsellors or therapists if you’re struggling to cope.

Be ready for mixed up emotions: 

There will be times where you will be overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, pain, grief, regret and anger. Don’t be too hard on yourself by ignoring self-care or blaming yourself continuously for death. 

All these overwhelming emotions are a part of the grieving process and a natural reaction to grieving the death of a loved one.

Be compassionate towards yourself: 

Respect what your body and mind are telling you and accept those limits. Get rest, take a healthy diet, and lighten your schedule.

Treasure the memories: 

Share the memories of good times, bad times, and keep them close to your heart. They are the legacy of your spouse that will always be a part of your heart.

Grief is a journey: 

Remember, grief is not an event but a process that takes time. Be kind to yourself and respect your limits. Take one step at a time and gradually move forward.

How can you speed up the grieving process?

Grieving and mourning a loved one is a very tragic yet inevitable experience of life. Grief will take the time it needs, as it can’t be accelerated or pinned according to a map. 

The time also varies based upon your connection with the loved one and the circumstances of your loved one’s death. We all need help to move on from grief. Therefore, as a friend, I would advise you:

Face the new normal: 

Unless you accept the sad reality of the tragedy you have gone through, you cannot move on in life and recover from it. 

You will be stuck in the same loop for days and years, asking yourself, “Did that just happen!” But why me? This can’t be happening.

Drugs won’t help: 

It’s also worthwhile to notice, suppressing one’s emotional pain with external sources like drugs, sleeping pills, or alcohol never works. 

You are merely deceiving your brain with chemicals that can have adverse effects in the long run. Sure, drugs and alcohol can ease the pain for a while, but they merely envelop the pain, not end it. 

Whenever you are going to remove the envelope, the letter’s message will be the same. By resisting your emotions, you’ll be engaged with an inner-conflict with yourself that might destroy your peace of mind.

Invest in healthy relationships: 

Know that we, as humans, are social beings , and you can’t expect to get through grief alone. You need someone to share your grief, someone to lend you a helping hand when you are at your lowest. 

Conclusion

We covered the essential frequently asked questions regarding grief, loss, and coping with the loss of a loved one in this information resource on understanding grief, loss, and bereavement.

There were also sections on how unhealthily grieving affects a person, why grieving properly is important, and grief stages. In addition we included tips, ideas on how to deal with grief.

With this information, we hope that the difficult journey you have found yourself on can be made easier by providing you with information about grief, loss, and bereavement.

We encourage you to continue sailing through your grief process as you gain strength to become more in control over your grief, loss, and bereavement.

How We Can Help

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