One of the hardest challenges that many of us go through in life is coping with the loss of a loved one. Loss is an inevitable part of life, and grieving is a natural response to it.
Often, the pain and intense emotions can become extremely overwhelming, leading to prolonged periods of sadness. Grief is not a problem to be solved, but rather a process to be gone through at one’s own pace, in order to heal and recover.
While there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to deal with it. Read on as TOUCH Mental Wellness sheds light on tips to help cope with the grief of losing a loved one.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
The five stages of grief were developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It was never intended to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone, but rather a guide to the grieving process, helping people better understand and contextualise where they are in their journey.
Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently, so not everyone will go through every stage in any particular order.
As the first stage, denial can initially help you survive the loss. In a state of shock, you may think that the situation completely makes no sense, and deny the news. However, this will only help to numb your emotions temporarily. When you finally come to terms with reality, the shock and denial will start to fade. At this point, your suppressed feelings will begin to resurface, and that is when you can start on your healing process.
Once you come to terms with reality, anger may start to set in. It is common to question “Why me?”, or “Why is life so unfair?”. You might even start to blame others, directing your anger towards your loved ones, or even the deceased. Rationally, you know that they are not at fault, but you may resent them for causing you pain or leaving you. Although anger may seem as negative, sometimes it is a way for you to still feel connected to those around you while you feel lost.
At this stage, you may feel extremely helpless and vulnerable. Bargaining may be a way to help you feel more in-control, like you could change the outcome of events. You may find yourself starting to create various “What if?” or “If only…” situations in your head. Religious individuals might even find themselves trying to make a deal with God or a higher power, in return for healing or relief. Bargaining acts as a line of defense against your intense emotions, helping you avoid the sadness and confusion.
This stage focuses on a deep sense of loss, representing the numbness and emptiness that you may feel after realising and coming to terms with the fact that your loved one is gone. You may start to withdraw from others and feel heavy as you carry the weight of your overwhelming emotions. As difficult as this stage may be, it is an important part of the grieving process as it will facilitate progress and finding peace.
The stage of acceptance represents your emotions gradually stabilising as you re-enter reality. It does not mean that you have completely moved past your grief, but rather, you have now accepted and understood it. Take your time as you start taking small steps to move forward in life, such as reaching out to friends and family or engaging in activities that you used to enjoy.
SELF-CARE TIPS AS YOU GRIEVE
Acknowledge and accept your feelings
It is completely normal to experience mixed feelings as you face loss and grief. It is important to address and express them rather than to avoid them, to help prevent emotional outbursts.
Understand that there is no standard timeline for your grieving process. It varies between different people, so it is helpful to let yourself deal with your emotions at your own pace.
While it is normal to isolate and withdraw yourself from close friends and family while you grieve, try to find ways to encourage yourself to open up to them. You may be feeling very lost, so it can be helpful to share your feelings with others. It can also be comforting to feel their love and support while you go through your grieving process.
Take care of yourself physically
It is common to neglect your physical needs while you grieve, which may lead to health implications. Try your best to get sufficient sleep, have a balanced diet and regular meals, stay hydrated, and make efforts to be active. This may also help take your mind off your overwhelming emotions for some time, and prevent you from falling ill.
Give yourself a break
It is important to focus on yourself and relieve the stress on your mind and body. You can take several breaks throughout the day and practice deep breathing or relaxation exercises. This can help you feel peace and calm, while reducing your overwhelming emotions.
When to seek professional help
While everyone goes through the grieving process at their own pace, some people may have difficulty moving through the stages even after a prolonged period of time. This may be an indication of ‘Complicated Grief’.
Complicated grief is described as a heightened stage of mourning which keeps you from healing and resuming back to your normal life.
Some signs and symptoms of complicated grief include:
- Intense sorrow and pain
- Sleep deprivation
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Extreme focus on the death and nothing else
- Persistent longing for the deceased
- Numbness and detachment
- Feeling that life has lost all purpose and meaning
- Lack of trust in others
- Suicidal thoughts
If you feel that you have trouble moving past your grief even after a prolonged period of time, it may be helpful to seek professional help, such as going for counselling sessions. It is important to tackle this as quickly as possible, as complicated grief may lead to complications such as potentially developing depression and anxiety.
SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE THROUGH THEIR GRIEVING PROCESS
When someone you care about is grieving after a loss, it can be difficult to find the right words to say, or actions to take, as you may feel afraid of coming off as intrusive or insensitive.
However, do not let this discomfort stop you from reaching out to them. While they go through their grieving process, they need your love and support more than ever.
Acknowledge their grief
Let them understand that there is no right or wrong way for them to grieve. Follow their pace in their recovery.
Provide emotional and tangible support
Express your concern, actively lend a listening ear and validate their feelings without being judgemental of their behaviours and emotions. It is also helpful to offer to handle tasks such as grocery shopping and preparing meals for them.
Watch out for warning signs of them developing or suffering from mental health issues, such as complicated grief or anxiety, and help them seek professional help as soon as possible.
Ultimately, coping with the loss of a loved one is a deeply personal experience. No one but yourself can help you overcome your thoughts and emotions as you move through the grieving process. Remember to pace yourself, and allow others to support you through it. In time, you will be able to move forward and embrace life once again.
Are you or someone you know struggling with the loss of a loved one and in need of support? TOUCH Mental Wellness is here to support you. Please call TOUCHline at 1800 377 2252 (Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm) to speak with a counsellor.
TOUCH Mental Wellness (TMW) runs personalised therapy and counselling programmes to empower individuals to rise above their circumstances. An advocate of mental wellness, TMW has been organising mental wellness awareness mass runs, talks and workshops since 2015. It works closely with corporations to conduct mental wellness talks with an aim of equipping employees with handles to cope with stress and help them build resilience. It also specialises in mental wellness awareness and educational programmes for schools.