At some point in our lives, we all get rocked with grief. Grief is far from predictable or linear. Just when we think we have a handle on what grieving entails, it can shift and blindside us with a brand new emotional process. No two grieving processes look alike either, so forget about trying to compare yours to another’s or even to a previous loss you have experienced. It is best to be gentle with yourself and resist trying to assert control or “shoulding” all over yourself (i.e: judging your process – “I should be over this by now”).
Common emotions and occurrences associated with grieving include:
SHOCK. This is often the initial reaction to loss and is a person’s emotional protection from being engulfed by sadness. A grieving person often feels stunned, numb or in disbelief. When my mother died (after a long painful battle with Alzheimer’s), I found myself initially “frozen” after she passed, even though cognitively I had long wished for my mother’s suffering to end. A friend came to stay with me at that time and was kind enough to allow me my process. She would let me sleep for hours, bring tea to my bedside, and very gently encourage me to get out for a walk. She would give me what now seems like all the time in the world to embrace the idea of leaving the house and would quietly deposit shoes at my bedside. My friend knew that being in nature would be healing (my mum too was a nature-lover and always dragged me to the beach from Vitamin “Sea” when I was sick). What is really moving to me is the gentle manner my friend cared for me at that time – no incessant chatter, no platitudes, just a strong and caring presence (which if you knew what a chatterbox she is by nature, you could better appreciate how remarkable of a gift this was to me at that time!). To me, the image of shoes by my bedside incites feelings of loving kindness.
SADNESS. It is helpful to recognize that emotions operate on a spectrum. Sadness is a big part of grief, but its intensity will vary. Feelings of sadness are often triggering by reminders of the loss and its permeance. Something as seemingly simple as pulling out a deceased loved one’s favorite mug out of the dishwasher knowing they will never sip from that cup again can bring about overwhelming sadness.
ANGER. The emotion of anger is a normal part of the grieving process, but often takes the griever by surprise. Anger is an intense reaction to an unmeet need – oftentimes grief and loss rocks one’s sense of safety, security, and existential beliefs, taking from someone a familiar way of being. Anger can be directed towards Self, God, life’s injustices, others associated with the deceased, or even the deceased for dying.
GUILT. One grieving can often fall victim to rumination regarding inaction to right wrongs with the recently deceased, or lament about actions not taken that might have prevented the loss.
ANXIETY. Any sort of loss can incite varying degrees of anxiety, from mild insecurity to full on panic attacks (I myself experienced panic attacks for the first time in my life after my house burned down). Grievers often feel their ability to care for themselves is now threatened from the loss, or they can feel grave concern about the well-being of others affected for the loss.
SOMATIC, COGNITIVE, AND BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS. Our overall well-being is comprised of several interconnecting facets (biological-psychological-social-spiritual). When emotional and mental strain are present, they are accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, stomach complaints, sleep problems, fatigue, lack of motivation, loss of interest in pursuits once deemed pleasurable, confusion, mental fog, and a difficulty in decision-making or inability to focus.
To successfully move through grief and loss, a necessary part of the process is to embrace suffering (something most people are not inclined to warmly welcome): We gotta “feel it to heal it” ❤