The year after someone dies, is a year living through every major event, holiday and celebration or loss for the first time without them. This is why many believe that it takes at least a year to truly process that someone has died and isn’t going to walk through that door again.
5 Stages of Grief
These stages are generally agreed to be universal. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief” in 1969. She later wrote that the five stages were “never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages”. Essentially, not everyone will experience all of the “five stages of grief”, and they certainly won’t experience emotions in some kind of linear and ordered fashion.
Bereavement has been a fundamental part of the human experience, one that all people across time and throughout the world have in common. The myriad of cultural and religious traditions for dealing with the death of loved ones and honouring their memory is testament to this.
Is there a “Correct” Reaction to Grief?
There may have been a time when people were expected to react a certain way to the death of a loved one. However, modern psychology assures us that there is no “normal” reaction to bereavement. Everyone deals with the process in their own way, and no one should have to concern themselves with whether or not they are reacting in the “correct” manner. People often experience a confusing range of emotions and react differently from each other.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), common reactions to bereavement include:
- Guilt: Regretting the things you said or didn’t say is a normal part of processing loss. As is relief, especially if the person who died was suffering.
- Anger: Feeling angry at yourself, those around you (like doctors), friends and family as well as the person who died isn’t unusual. It’s also not unusual to be angry at the seemingly unfairness of someone’s passing away.
- Sadness: May manifest as a sense of despair, emptiness or loneliness.
- Fear: Death reminds us of our own mortality, something most don’t like to think about. Additionally, it can bring added responsibilities which we don’t feel prepared for or decisions we now have to make alone.
- Shock: It’s not uncommon to feel a sense of numbness and disbelief.
- Physical symptoms: Grief can manifest in many ways including body aches, pains, fatigue and nausea. It can cause stress headaches, anxiety as well as insomnia or it can make you tired. Your immune system may be lowered which can lead to more frequent bouts of illness.
How Long Do You Hurt for?
There is also no official time-frame in which grief is expected to pass. It varies from one person to another. It can last days, weeks, months or even years, depending on the circumstance, what needs to be processed and how that is able to take place.
4 Ways to Help Deal with Grief
There are various ways to deal with grief and no linear way through the process or formula to accepting someone is gone. The reality is that if you cared about someone then it is likely you won’t stop missing them or even hurt a bit when you think of them. However, the intensity of the emotions does decrease, it just takes time. And hopefully what you will be left with is the ability to remember happy memories without guilt or regret.
1. Expressing Grief
Different people express themselves in different ways. For some people, talking about their loss helps. For others, writing about it is a better outlet. Some prefer being alone to mourn, while others want to be around people. The important thing is to express the grief and acknowledge the pain, rather than keep it bottled up.
2. Seeking Integration rather than Closure
Many people approach the grieving process with the belief that the goal is to find “closure”. This is a common misconception. Jennifer Soos, a professional trauma counsellor, advises that the belief that closure exists and ought to be the end goal of a grieving process isn’t helpful. Instead, she advises her support groups that “figuring out how to integrate the experience into who we are and what that will look moving forward” is best.
3. Self Care
It’s possible to be so overcome with grief that you feel depressed and demotivated in general. When this happens life can become quite unbalanced. This is understandable, but it’s important to try and maintain a healthy diet and regular workout routine. Doing this, will help alleviate some of the stress caused by grief as well as help lighten the feelings of depression and demotivation.
4. Maintaining a Routine
A daily routine will help keep your mind off the loss as well as remind you that life goes on. It can also be helpful to have a to-do list and when you’re at a loss of what to do or need to “stop thinking”, check the list to see what can keep you busy for a while. The National Health Service (NHS) puts forward that even simple, mundane every day chores like doing housework can help.
Helping Someone else Deal with Grief
It’s difficult to know what to say when someone is hurting deeply or lost a loved one. Sprouting platitudes like “I’m sure they’re in a better place” or “time heals all wounds” doesn’t help them and can actually make things more difficult.
An empathetic approach along with some practical help is often most appreciated. Pop-by regularly and when you do, keep an eye out for daily things to help with – like doing the dishes or folding laundry. A few months down the line, once most people have stopped bringing around dinner, cook a meal. The kindest thing to do however, is listen, share memories and ask questions.
Seeking professional help
Seeking professional help if you are supporting someone who is grieving or if you are mourning is not a sign of weakness. It’s advisable. Especially if the mourner is displaying symptoms of depression, or is unable to function normally in day-to-day life. A GP can prescribe medication if need be, and refer you to a counsellor who can help the mourner process the grief and develop coping strategies.
These are places where people who are in similar spaces can work together and support each other. They provide a validation space, free from judgement, where someone can express their feelings and better understand their reactions. Multiple coping strategies are shared such that you can figure out what could help you best. Support groups can also assist in alleviating some of the loneliness as well as boredom that often accompany the grieving process.
If you’re interested in learning about the work counsellors do in this regard, you can study counselling at SACAP, and gain insight into the psychological understanding of the grieving process, as well as methods for coping with it. SACAP offers a range of counselling courses, including part-time and full-time as well as online options. For more information, enquire now.