by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance
No one should walk the road of grief alone. Yet every day, adults and children must cope with the pain of grief by themselves. Alone. Grief can be a very frightening and overwhelming experience filled with an array of emotions and feelings. This article will explore our reactions to grief as well as offer advice for coping with day-to-day struggles.
Grief affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Grief is similar to a roller coaster ride in the dark. We never know from one moment to the next which reaction or combination of reactions will overpower us. Following are some of the numerous grief reactions you may experience:
- Physical reactions – sighing, shortness of breath, a change in eating habits, weight loss or gain, headaches, loss of energy, apathy, illness, gastrointestinal problems, sleeplessness, crying or uncontrollable sobbing, gut-wrenching pain.
- Mental or spiritual reactions – selfishness or egocentric focus, distracted thought patterns, short attention span, auditory/visual hallucinations (we think we hear or see the person who has died), regressed actions (may become childlike or more dependent on others), suicidal thoughts, loss of interest in socializing, over-protection of our children (especially when a child has died), a loss of faith or religious beliefs.
- Emotional – depression, fear, resentment, powerlessness, emotional numbness, withdrawal, blaming, frustration, anger, guilt.
Each person will react to grief and loss differently. Your individual reactions are defined by previous experiences as well as your coping skills. You may feel, at times, as if you are functioning on automatic pilot or are in a daze. Your senses may seem numb. You may cry uncontrollably, be short-tempered, or be unable to cope with simple tasks. There may be occasions when you feel as if your insides have been ripped out. The pain you feel physically and emotionally seems never-ending. You believe you will never be happy again. Your grief may shake the foundation of your religious beliefs. You find yourself playing the “what if?” game and endlessly searching for answers to “why?”
Guilt and anger play a major role in grieving. They are normal, healthy reactions. You may feel guilty for unkind actions or words spoken in haste towards the person who has died. You may regret the opportunities you’ve missed to spend quality time with them before their death. You may be angry due to the circumstances surrounding their death (suicide, homicide, etc.). You may find that you are angry with them for dying and leaving you alone. Discontent within a family during or following the funeral may cause undue emotional stress. Nonetheless, guilt and anger can be the driving force that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and live another day. It is not wrong to feel guilt or anger; however, you do not use them as an excuse to inflict pain on yourself or others.
Grieve in your own way and in your own time. I recommend keeping a journal or diary. Write down your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. This will help you realize that you are progressing in your grief. Compose letters to your loved one or list simple accomplishments you’ve mastered; such as, doing chores around the house, participating in social activities with friends, or just enjoying the glories of nature. We become so burdened with grief that we forget to celebrate the simple things in life. Laughter is good for healing grief as well. I do not expect you to laugh and reinvest in life and living quickly. This will take time; whatever time you need. Your grief journey may take many months or even years. You will never be the person you were before your grief journey began. I promise you, though, that if you are willing to do what it will take to heal your grief, the pain will subside. You will be able to smile and be happy again. Grief has the power to help you become a more sensitive, loving, and caring person.
Read articles and books on grief. A bereavement support group or speaking with a minister, priest, or rabbi can also be of help. Avoid excessive alcohol or addictive drugs. They may temporarily dull your pain, but they will do nothing to heal your grief. Exercise and eat healthy. If you are having trouble sleeping, drink a glass of warm milk or listen to soothing music.
If you have a special friend who is willing to walk with you through your grief journey hold their hand tightly. They will guide you around the obstacles in your path. They will surround you with love and lift you up when your days are long and lonely. This special friend can reaffirm your simple achievements and acknowledge that you are making progress in healing.
The road to healing grief is filled with many hurdles and detours. Family and friends may find life just as challenging and painful as you. Keep in mind that no two people will deal with feelings and emotions in the same manner. Do not be surprised to find that some of your acquaintances may tire of your seemingly long journey. People expect you to be over it (grief) in a short period of time. Do not plan to have your grief healed by a certain date (i.e., six months, the anniversary of the death, etc.). Take whatever time you need. It is important for you to acknowledge all your feelings. Do not feel ashamed or weak as the result of your emotions or expressions of grief. Seek out someone who will walk with you and guide you through your journey. Take hold of their strong hand and lean on them. Let them help you survive your grief.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a bereavement educator and the president of The Sweeney Alliance. She has written and taught countless workshops about coping with grief and trauma, including How to Understand Grief Seminars (HUGS), Child Healing After Trauma (CHAT), and the Grieving Behind the Badge program for emergency response professionals. She has reached out to her community through Halo of Love, a support group for bereaved parents, and Comfort and Conversation for bereaved adults and teens. She is the author of numerous award-winning articles and is the editor of three online newsletters: The Road Less Traveled, Bereaved Parents and Grieving Behind the Badge. Peggy is currently a member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department and a former mortician and EMT-B. You may contact Peggy at firstname.lastname@example.org