Normal Reactions to Loss
by Pat Schwiebert
The Mourning Process
Grief and mourning is often misunderstood by people who have never faced the death of a loved one. If this has happened to you for the first time, I hope the following thoughts and information will help you realize that what you are experiencing is normal. The intense feelings will lessen as you do a variety of things to take care of yourself in the healing process.
The healing process takes courage… like telling someone, with tears in your eyes, that you were once happily married, but now you live alone; or that Mother’s Day or Father’s Day has lost its meaning because your parent died; or that you had three children but only two are living.
Others may feel uncomfortable as they see you expressing your (sometimes) uncontrollable feelings. It takes courage not to avoid these feelings just to make others feel “better.” Finding others who do understand what it is like is important at this time. Joining a grief support group is one way.
Then there is the other side… needing to take a “vacation” from your grief, so that you can have some relief. Some people do it by going back to work, others by getting involved in a project or activity, or taking walks in areas they love. You may only be able to do this for short amounts of time during the first few weeks, but even that amount can help.
Later (the time varies for different people and their relationship to the deceased), the deep and over-whelming feelings of sadness will lessen, though there will be times when you miss the one who died and feel sad.
Possible Normal Physical Symptoms of Grief and Mourning
- Dry mouth and skin (possibly caused by dehydration from crying – drink lots of water)
- Loss of appetite or over-eating
- Frequent thoughts about the one who died
- The area near your heart can hurt, as if it were broken (breathing difficulties)
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty in maintaining concentration; forgetfulness
- Increased sensitivity to loud noises
- Feeling confused
Possible Normal Emotional Symptoms
- Things seem unreal
- You may feel distant from others, and it may seem as if no one really cares about you or understands what it’s like
- Loss of meaning in life (Hang on! The meaning will return, though your life and how you see it may be different)
- Crying is healthy and important in healing (Keeping from crying might cause health problems later)
- Nature gave us tears to ease the stress of life
- Men, especially, can have difficulty crying, because they have been taught not to cry (They do, and it’s normal and healthy)
Feelings Sometimes Associated with Grief and Mourning
- Shock and numbness (a normal way to react to the news of a death)
- Guilt (“if only’s” are natural and need to be expressed)
- Anger (often we’re taught not to feel angry, but anger is a normal feeling and needs to be accepted and expressed – in a non-destructive way)
- Depression (at times, loneliness and lack of motivation may occur for you – don’t worry, at some point the motivation will return)
- Relief (it is a normal feeling, especially when the deceased suffered before death, or in a sudden death, where there was no suffering)
- Avoid use of drugs and alcohol – they usually stop or delay grief (which means you’ll need to face the feelings about the death later on)
- Avoid hasty decisions about the belongings of the deceased
- Put off any major decisions (i.e.: moving, financial investments, etc.)
- Even though your patience may wear thin, try letting others know what you need and how to help you (giving them this hand-out may help them to understand you better)
- Gather strength from people who won’t judge or advise you and are available for emotional support.
Have hope, for you can find new meaning in life. It will not happen overnight, so try not to push yourself. Studies show that many people think that grief and mourning should be over by either the day after the funeral, or at least by two months later. THAT IS NOT TRUE!!! Depending upon your relationship to the deceased (how emotionally intertwined your lives were), the mourning process may last for several months or more.
The time will come, if you choose, when you begin building a different life for yourself. You will be different, and a “healed scar” will be where the rawness once was. You may, occasionally, still feel sad and have a strong need to cry. Go ahead, give in to it. There will be those times when you miss your loved one.
Letting go forever to someone you love is a challenge. My heart goes out to you as you take courage.
The Variety of Ways Grief Affects Us
Emotionally Physically Cognitively
- sad appetite confusionanxious heart hurts disbelief
- guilt energy forgetfulness
- irritated sleep patterns hallucination
- frustrated trying to make angry sense of it
- Why did God let him die? Why him/her? Why me?
- Why is God punishing me? Life is unfair!
- What did I do wrong to deserve this?
- What is the meaning of life?
Ways to Decrease Stress
- 35% decrease stress by writing thoughts and feelings
- 35% decrease stress by talking into a tape recorder, listening decreased stress by another 5%
- 25% decrease stress by walking the equivalency of a mile a day
- 50% decrease stress by talking and sharing with people who don’t judge or advise