Grief allows us to come to terms with and move on from a major loss. Grieving takes time and energy—being kind to ourselves is a vital ingredient in recovery.
Grief is a natural process by which we adjust to living with any significant loss. It is a response to the crisis of losing something precious and follows the loss of anything meaningful—be it a relationship, good health, leaving home, losing a job, failing an exam, or the loss of hope or love.
When we are grieving for someone or something, we are affected physically, mentally and emotionally. Grief symptoms include: initial denial, sadness, loss of motivation, anger, frustration and an eventual acceptance of the loss. The length of time we spend grieving is influenced by the depth of meaning attached to the person or thing we have lost.
Moving through grief
Grief can take a long time to resolve and is much like a journey. When we experience a significant loss our first reaction is often shock. We can't believe it. It takes our feelings a while to catch up with what has happened. It may feel like it is happening to someone else. The sense of shock can last for days after a loss, and occasionally for longer.
As the shock wears off we begin to feel the pain of our loss. We realise this really is happening to us and that it hurts. At this stage we may need someone we can share our painful feelings with. We may want to talk a lot about the person or thing we are missing. Talking and expressing feelings helps people to face what has happened.
People express painful feelings differently. Not everyone cries or finds it easy to talk about their loss, but this doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Some people lack energy to do anything. Others push painful feelings away by being very busy. How long people feel the pain of their loss varies—but grief does gradually ease over time.
Healing takes time. Allow yourself to grieve in whatever way feels right for you—allow space to remember, pray, meditate, cry and mourn. If you have lost a person, take time to reflect on your memories of them. Rituals, such as lighting a candle, visiting a place you went together, or taking flowers to a grave can be healing. Take time also to care for yourself, and to attend to the day-to-day business of life. Eat well, and stay physically activity during this time. The key to adaptive coping when grieving is striking a balance between all these different activities.
You may want to talk about how you feel or share memories with friends or family members. Sometimes it’s easier not to talk, but just to have company. While family and friends can provide valuable support, sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone who is not personally involved. Trained professionals such as a counsellor or psychologist can support you to safely express grief. They can also help you work through the different challenges that may arise in the process of grieving.
When supporting someone who is grieving, the most helpful thing we can do is allow them to express their painful feelings without judgement. It doesn’t help to try and cheer them up or tell them they will soon get over it. In fact, significant losses can takes months to come to terms with and the death of a loved one can take much longer.