Coping with Grief
There is no easy way around grief.
It is a natural response to the loss of someone special or something we value. Grief is not well understood in our society and some people try to deny it, postpone it or avoid it. However, when someone close to you has died, there will be adjustments, both big and small, which have to be made in your life.
These adjustments can bring uncertainty, frustration, fear, sadness and change as each new day comes along. You will change… your routine will change… and all this is called ‘grief’. It’s really about adapting to the changes in your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future.
There is no set pattern to follow when you are grieving. Even members of the one family who are mourning the loss of the same person will show their grief in different ways. Why does this happen? Because there are special factors which affect the grief of individuals differently.
This determines how you cope with stress. Do you communicate your feelings easily with others or do you clam up?. Do you keep busy to avoid thinking about your problems? Do you believe you must be strong or always in control? Do you worry about the opinion of others, especially if you are upset?
What was your relationship with the person who died? How strong was the attachment? There can be a strong bond between a mother and a new born baby even though they may not have known each other for long. The loss of this relationship is just as important as the loss of a marriage of many years.
Circumstances of the Death.
Was it sudden, untimely or unexpected? How was the news broken? Was there time to say goodbye? Did you see the person after death? Did you go to the funeral? Sometimes when people did not say an adequate goodbye, they can deny the death or act as if the person has just gone away for a time.
The support you have.
Do you have sensitive people you can rely on for support such as family, church, colleagues, doctor or employer? Do your friends allow you to show your feelings or do they expect you to get on with living now that the funeral is over?
Remember that sometimes males receive little support because the people around them believe they are strong and can cope on their own. Some men also believe they should not show their feelings to others so they do not talk about their grief. This can be difficult when a partner or friend wants to talk about what’s happened and find they get nowhere in the conversation.
Personal problems you may be experiencing.
Has the death come at a time when you may have other problems to deal with? You could feel swamped by an overload of feelings or not know which way to turn. Maybe there has been a loss somewhere in the past that has been swept under the carpet and may therefore make your present grief more complex and difficult to resolve.
Can you see you see why it is important to recognise each person’s grief as a unique experience? When you do this, you will find it easier to understand how you and the rest of your family, and even your friends are coping.
Grief is also for children.
Like adults, children will react to the news individually, perhaps with unexpected responses. The child may say it’s not true and lash out verbally or physically. Wanting to be left alone or being curious and full of questions may be more common for some children than sadness.
They may show their grief by changed behaviour like angry outbursts or lack of interest in their usual activities or school work. Fears may surface… Who’s going to look after me now? Will we have to move house? I’m afraid to go to sleep. I don’t understand what’s going on.
Children are best helped by adults who give them clear and honest explanations about death and allow tears and other feelings to surface without criticism or rejection. To say to a child “We lost Grandma last night” or “Daddy has gone to heaven” can be vague and confusing.
Such explanations equate death as simply going away and can leave the child with the expectation that in some future time, the person will return. Often cuddles, hugs and some quiet time together will satisfy a child who is feeling frightened or unsure about the changes happening in the family.
Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable when a school friend or family member dies because their grief may become complicated by the usual ups and downs associated with adolescence. Their need to appear ‘grown up’ in front of their peers or their family could result in isolation, and difficulty in asking for help or expressing their feelings. It isn’t necessary for adults to hide their own tears from children of any age.
Your grief will show them they need not be ashamed or scared to express their own. By doing this, they will not carry unresolved childhood losses into their adult lives, nor will they learn unhelpful ways of coping with grief, such as masking their true feelings or believing that they must bear the hurt, confusion, questions, anger or fear silently.
Grieving is healthy and natural. It’s a time we all must experience each in our own way. Avoid using words like “Be brave” and “You need to be strong”. It could cause one to bottle up their feelings which is senseless.
You will find that as you grieve, the hurt you have will lessen as you remember the happy times you’ve shared.
- A booklet on understanding and coping with grief is available freely from our office.