As human beings we, over the course of our lives, develop strong connections with other people. These connections form the loving relationships that are so central to our lives and selves. When one of these connections is changed, through death, we experience loss. This experience of loss can come in many different shapes and sizes for each person and can include, not only the significant loss of our loved one, but also the potential loss of who you understand yourself to be, the loss of future dreams, or the loss of a belief or value system. We may be experiencing several losses at once.
With these complex experiences of loss comes the human response of grief. Grief is a natural and inevitable part our life journey. Because we live, because we love, because we have significant connections to and with people, we therefore must grieve.
Grief then is the reaction to loss. Over the years many people, scientists, scholars have studied the processes of grief and assumptions have built up over time about how a person should grieve. You might have heard that grief might take a certain amount of time or that you may go through certain stages. These grief expectations can be quite powerful, telling us that we shouldn't be crying anymore, or that you're supposed to be over it by now.
However, grief often doesn't fit into a neat package or continue down a linear "I'm getting better now" path. It's easy to think that now I'm over the 'denial' stage I can move onto the next. From understanding the experience of grief we can see that it rarely follows a predictable path. It is a time of chaos. We hope that you are able to step away from these generalised expectations concerning time and stages and appreciate that your grief process is highly unique. Everyone grieves in his or her own way, in his or her own time frame.
"We were surprised to discover that we did not recover in a simple way. Clear progress one day did not assure progress the next. Nor did all the gains we made one month stay with us the next. Some things never went away. Some disappeared for a long time and then came up again unexpectedly. We learned that this was typical of grief. It often proceeds along its own choppy, zigzag way, taking detours away from the main road to recovery".
"Often we had no hope. It seemed an easy thing to lose at times. What was there to hope for? What could possibly get better? How could we betray our loved one's memory by looking forward to a future without him or her? But it was there often. Expressed in many tiny ways. Hope the kids will do okay in school. Hope the dinner will not take long to prepare. Hope I won't have to answer any questions today. These are little signs of hope, which eventually grow into the more recognisable kinds of hope - hope in a future that is no longer saturated with sorrow"
(Quotations from the bereaved: Coping with the suicide of a loved one. Dunne & Wilbur, 2005).
We can understand that:
. There is no right or wrong way to grieve
. There is no time line or deadline to finish grieving
. It's not about getting over grief, but rather finding ways to live with it
. There are a lot of expectations about grief that are not necessary helpful
. Grieving is not a neat and controllable process; it is a chaotic journey
. Grieving can occur even before a person dies
. Grieving is an experience that is unique for each person; we grieve differently
. Many things will effect how we grieve.
For example your gender, age and personality; the circumstances of the death, and the type of relationship you have with the person; the losses you've experienced in the past; cultural and religious/spiritual considerations; the degree of life changes that go hand in hand with the loss.
With grief there can be a multiple array of expressions, emotions, thoughts, changed behaviours and physical affects. Here are just a few:
Shame and Guilt
Altered belief system
Lack of concentration
Not able to eat, or eat all the time
Strong dreams and visions
Sense of limbo
Sadness and Depression
Not able to sleep, or sleep all the time
Fear and Panic
Confused and forgetful
Sickness, colds, headaches
Tightness in the throat or chest
Never ending tears, or no tears
Over sensitivity to noise, smells
Vague or 'zombie' like
Generally, we become more fragile, sensitive and vulnerable when struggling with our loss. Everything seems to impact on us more. Over time, grieving people talk of a type of 'integration' of their grief in their lives and selves.
"Gradually, you take yourself from here to there, from numbness to intense pain to healing and even ultimately to a potentially deeper understanding of life and what it is to be a human being. Now, along with the pain, there is something I never expected to have - a new understanding about the deep mystery of what it is to be human and alive"
The journey of grief is an extremely hard one. The sadness and pain of grief can be like something you've never experienced before. Grief's intenseness can feel like a knife in your stomach. Or perhaps it could be like the waves of the ocean, turbulent and overwhelming sometimes, and calmer at other times.
Mostly, what can be understood about grief, and people's journey with it, is that the human spirit is one that continues on.
There is no way to predict
How you will feel
The reactions of grief
Are not like recipes
With given ingredients
And certain results
Each person mourns in a different way
You may cry hysterically
You may remain outwardly controlled
Showing little emotion
You may lash out in anger
Against your family and friends
You may express your gratitude
For their concern and dedication
You may be calm one moment
In turmoil the next
Reactions are varied and contradictory
Grief is universal
At the same time
It is extremely personal
Heal in your own way.
Earl A. Grollman