Grief and Loss

Monday 23 October 2023

Summary
Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, such as a family member or friend. Grief can also occur after a serious illness, a divorce, or other significant losses.

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What is grief and loss?

Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, such as a family member or friend. Grief can also occur after a serious illness, a divorce, or other significant losses.

Grief often involves intense sadness, and sometimes feelings of shock and numbness, or denial and anger. Grief is a process or journey that affects everyone differently. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining. This can make it hard to do simple things or even leave the house. Some people cope by becoming more active.

Grief has no set pattern. It is expressed differently across different cultures. Some people like to be expressive and public with their emotions, while others like to keep their feelings private.

Most people find that grief lessens with time. A person who loses a loved one may always carry sadness and miss the person who has died, but they are able to find meaning and experience pleasure again. Some people even find new wisdom and strength after experiences of loss.

Are there different types of grief and loss?

Grief is usually described in relation to the death of a loved one, but other types of major loss can also lead to feelings of grief. The more significant a loss, the more intense grief may be.

People may feel grief over:

  • The death of a loved one — grief can be particularly severe following the death of a child, or a suicide.
  • Separation and divorce.
  • The loss of a family pet.
  • Work changes — for example, unemployment, or retirement.
  • A terminal illness diagnosis (our own or that of a family/friend)
  • The loss of mobility    due to illness, accident, or disability.
  • Miscarriage and infertility.
  • Moving away or separation from family or friends

What are the effects of grief?

A person may have intense feelings of grief. This can feel overwhelming, making it seem hard or even impossible to think about anything else. For some people, these feelings or thoughts may be so difficult to deal with that they push them down or mask them, either all or some of the time.

The effects of grief can often resemble depression and some people do develop depression following a significant loss. If you are dealing with a major loss and finding it difficult to cope, see your doctor, or seek support from a counsellor or therapist.

Immediately after a death, those left behind often feel shocked, numb and in denial, particularly if the death was unexpected.

When they begin to understand the reality of death, they can feel intensely sad, empty, or lonely, and sometimes angry or guilty. The feelings can be painful, and overwhelming. Grief can come in waves, seeming to fade away for a while before returning. But over time, the feelings gradually subside.

Emotions

People might feel or act differently to usual when they are grieving. They might have difficulty concentrating, withdraw and not enjoy their usual activities. They may drink, smoke, or use drugs. They may also have thoughts of hurting themselves or that they can’t go on.

Physical health

Grief can be exhausting, and this may weaken the our immune system. This makes people prone to colds and other illness. Grief can affect the appetite and lead to changes in weight. It can affect sleep and leave people feeling extremely drained.

Complicated grief and depression

In some people, grief can be prolonged and intense. This may interfere with their ability to cope with everyday life. This may be more likely if the loss was particularly traumatic, such as a suicide or death of a child and in recent years the effects of Covid-19.

Prolonged grief (also referred to as complex or complicated grief) is a persistent form of intense grief where people find it very difficult to live with the loss. Instead of gradually thinking more positively, thoughts may become stuck in a dark, sorrowful place. People often describe this time as being emotionally paralysed and unable to think past the loss. They may feel very lost and alone. In this state, it is common to:

  • feel confused.
  • feel a sense of overwhelming sadness.
  • have extreme thoughts and behaviours, which may or may not be linked to the experience.
  • have an ongoing yearning for the past.

Someone with prolonged grief may be preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the person who died, making the future seem empty and hopeless.

When should I seek help for my grief?

If you have persistent feelings of sadness and despair, and are unable to experience happiness, you may be experiencing depression. If your feelings are getting in the way of your everyday life, then it’s important to seek help.

For some people, grief might not lessen even after time passes. The grief can significantly disrupt life, affecting jobs, relationships and how they interact in the community.

You may need to seek help if you:

  • feel like grief makes it very difficult to do anything at all.
  • have difficulty socialising.
  • have difficulty sleeping or staying awake.
  • lose your appetite or overeat.
  • experience intense and ongoing emotions such as anger, sadness, numbness, anxiety, depression, despair, emptiness and/or guilt
  • have thoughts of harming yourself.

How can I cope with grief?

If you experience grief or loss, you may always feel some sadness and miss a person once they are gone, but the painful, intense feelings should gradually subside. It eventually becomes easier to deal with life.

Allow yourself to grieve.

It is natural to cry. Many people find crying a relief. Exploring and expressing emotions can be a part of grief. Listening to music or writing can help. Time spent alone can allow you to connect with your emotions.

Live one day at a time

Set a regular daily routine and do something special for yourself every day. Try to go for a walk or finding a way to relax. It’s a good idea to avoid making any major decisions to soon after the death of someone you love.

Seek help.

Talking to your doctor, people at a support group or a relative or friend you trust can be a big help. Seeking the support of a counsellor may also be beneficial.

Stay connected.

It’s important to spend time with supportive people. Accept offers of help, talk about your loved one, or simply spend time with others.

Create positive memories.

Honour the life of the person who has died. Collect photos or keepsakes, write a journal, write a letter to the person who died, or share stories and rituals with others. These can all help to create meaning after loss.

Experiencing anniversaries.

Birthdays, and anniversaries can trigger intense feelings of grief. It may help to mark these occasions with a simple ceremony like lighting a candle, playing music, or gathering with family.

How long does grief last?

Every person grieves differently and there is no set timeframe for how long grief may last. Some people may mourn for 6 months, others for several years. There are many factors involved in how long grief may last. It is important to give yourself time to grieve and not feel rushed to ‘move on’ before you are ready.

How do I move on?

The term ‘moving on’ can be unhelpful, because as life moves forward you need to move with it. As each day goes by you are moving forward, but the phrase moving on can feel as though you need to get over the passing of a loved one. It’s important to remember that moving on does not mean forgetting but learning how to live without that person in your life. Moving on doesn’t mean that your grief will end, but that you will learn to live with it and can therefore manage to find a new way forward.

If you need help and further support, please contact CRUSE Bereavement support (UK). They offer 6 free sessions with a bereavement volunteer and can guide and signpost if needed. www.cruse.co.uk