Handling the grief of losing a loved one

Friday, 3 July 2020

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Grief is expressed in many ways and it can affect every part of your life; your emotions, thoughts and behaviour, beliefs, physical health, your sense of self and identity, and your relationships with others. It often even involves physical problems, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Lowered immunity
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia

Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried, and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning; the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods generally become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.

Some things that help handling the grief of losing a loved one:

  1. Let yourself grieve – express your feelings to a trusted family member, friend or health professional, rather than bottling them up.
  2. Take care of yourself – by eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping. Give yourself time out from the pain. Do things you enjoy, even if you don’t really feel like doing them. Try getting back into your normal routine.
  3. Take your time and postpone major life decisions – it takes time to get back into life. There is not a set time limit on grief, so try not to put pressure on yourself or others to “move on” or “get over it”. Avoid making any big decisions until you can think more clearly.
  4. Say goodbye and share your feelings – Each person has a different way of remembering the person that has been lost. For some people having belongings that remind them of the deceased can help. For others, putting these things away until they are better equipped to face them is easier.
  5. Let people help – Explain to family and friends how you feel and what you would like them to do to help. Often others want to help but they do not know what you need or want; e.g. whether to talk about the loved person or not. Tell them. It can help to talk to a professional, or to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience, and understand what you are going through.
  6. Let yourself heal – Healing does not just mean “letting go” or “saying goodbye”. You may feel guilty about “forgetting” a person or thing and not want to move on. This is a normal part of healing. Never feel guilty about moving through your grief and trying to get back to your life.
  7. Know that you can get through this – You can survive a big loss even if you feel like you can’t. Take one step at a time. Know your limits and expect some set-backs. It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever face, but you can heal.
  8. Be prepared for stressful or sad events – Events and situations that remind you of your loss can be particularly hard to deal with. Prepare for these events and your reactions to them, and it may not be as hard as you think it will be.
  9. Do things just for you – Taking “time out” to do the things that you used to enjoy or to have fun is important. Even when you are feeling down, try to connect regularly with family and friends and get involved in activities or hobbies.

If grief is becoming too overwhelming for you or someone you know, get help by talking to a psychologist, GP or counsellor.