Living With Grief
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OFDA Brochure – Living With Grief
Generally, grief occurs following a loss by death, but may follow any separation. The bereaved come to accept the separation and to readjust to the environment in which the deceased is missing through a process call “grief work”. James R. Hodge, M.D., Staff Psychiatrist at Akron City Hospital, cites ten symptoms that may be experienced as a part of grief. A person may experience each symptom or only a few. Likewise, these symptoms do not necessarily occur in any particular order. The symptoms will vary according to the individual and the nature of the death. These symptoms were published in Today’s health by the American Medical Association.
“People are forever changed by the experience of grief in their lives. We, as humans, do not ‘get over’ our grief, but work to reconcile ourselves to living with it. Anyone who attempts to prescribe a specific time frame for the experience only creates another barrier to the healing process.”
— Alan Wolfelt — Center For Loss and Life Transition
What May I Experience?
Shock and Denial
“I Just Don’t Believe It!” The first actual announcement that a death has occurred is often shocking. The impact of the tragedy may take a few minutes or a few days to be realized. The unreality of the death may even reoccur occasionally in the future..
“I Can’t Stop Crying.” Crying is a normal reaction to death. Psychiatrists often emphasize it is a necessity to release tensions and feelings rather than lock them inside. The opportunity to express grief at the funeral with family and friends permits an emotional release, although the grief process usually takes much longer to complete. Every person’s grief is unique.
“Without Him I Might As Well Be Dead!” A feeling of emptiness may occur after the funeral as friends return to their own activities. Therefore, the feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression become more intense. The thought that no one has ever suffered as much may exist. For some people the lonely feeling leaves suddenly. For others, it may take months to move to the next phase of grief.
“I Just Can’t Bear It!” Anxiety and loneliness can create emotional pain. This strain of grief can even cause physical distress. If the physical signs continue for a lengthy period of time, it is possible a healthy adjustment has not occurred.
“Oh, What Am I Going To Do?” It may become difficult to concentrate on anything because of constant memories of the deceased. In fact, the continual pre-occupation with the loss may cause a person to worry about his own stability. He may fear losing control. Not knowing what to do and not understanding what is happening can result in panic.
“I Should Have Done More For Him.” Frequently survivors recall things that could have been done for the person who died. This realistic guilt is common. Sometimes, a person will experience unrealistic guilt stemming from a situation which is uncontrollable. This type of guilt is irrational and must be discussed. Unresolved guilt, whether “normal’ or “neurotic”, may be harmful physically and mentally. Often, arranging a meaningful funeral can redirect the feelings of the grieving person into something positive and uplifting.
“Oh, God, Why Me?” After dealing with personal guilt, it becomes natural to look for someone else to blame. There may be hostility toward the physician, nurses, persons surrounding the accident or anyone who seemingly could have prevented the death. These feelings of anger must be expressed. It is best to disclose them to a tolerant and sympathetic listenter.
“Will Life Ever Be Worth Living Again?” A feeling of weariness develops from depression and frustration. Sometimes, suffering in silence seems easier than socializing. Forcing yourself to get involved in activities will help relieve the depressed feelings. When the despair mounts, contact someone who will listen.
Healing and Hope
“I Now Realize The Meaning Of Friends.” Through the affection and encouragement of friends and family, gradually a new meaning of life unfolds. As you begin to enter into activities, your mood will brighten, and life will begin to take on a new prospective.
“Knowing I’m Adjusting To Life Again Would Please Him.” The acuteness of the death will diminish as readjustment begins. This stage may take time. Then recalling the deceased becomes a pleasant experience and planning for the future becomes realistic and hopeful.
How Can I Learn To Manage The Loss?
Promote The “Grief Work”.
Face the crisis actively so as to realize the full reality of what has happened. By viewing the body of the deceased and discussing the death with friends at the visitation, you can begin to accept the permanency of the loss. Although it is painful, you begin to realize you don’t get over grief, you work through it. It is this pain which activates the healing process.
Surround Yourself With Friends And Family
Begin during the acute phase to accept the sympathy of people. You need their warmth and support at the critical moments and throughout the grief stages. Do not be afraid to cry with them. Receiving friends at the funeral home is one way to allow others to show they care. Let them know you appreciate their concern.
Avoid Medication Such As Sedatives
Although drugs may provide some needed relief, they must not be taken for the purpose of avoiding grief entirely. Remember, the “grief work” must be done in order to make the adjustment.
Refrain From making Hasty Decisions
Immediately taking a trip or changing your residence is not the answer. You must cope with the loss first, knowing that “running away” will not help. Avoid making serious financial decisions until you have had time to secure proper advice.
Recall The Unforgettable Memories
Sometimes bereaved individuals feel the solution to the grief is to attempt to “forget”. However, it is good to recall the life of the deceased. By recognizing the wealth of the past, you can understand the grief is worth the time spent together.
Consult With Professionals If Grief Becomes Intense
Feel free to contact your clergyman, physician or funeral director. They are excellent listeners. Those familiar with the grief process may provide valuable counsel.
Avoid Relying Totally On The Advise Of Friends
Often, well-meaning friends may be unfamiliar witht eh stages of grief or unaware of your true needs. Relaize their intentions are certainly in your interest, but sometimes their advice may be misdirected.
Share Your Feelings With Others
Relate your problems and memories to those who will listen. Do not hesitate to repeat these time and again. Revealing your thoughts openly helps to alleviate emotional pain. It also helps to journal your feelings.
Establish Goals for Yourself
Concentrating on serving others and developing new interests will relieve your loneliness and give new purpose to your life. You may volunteer to serve in a charitable organization to help individuals in need. Consider seeking further education, increasing your involvement in work, and joining service or travel clubs as ways of adding new meaning to your life.
Paint a realistic picture of what pain you may face. The “grief work” will help to overcome the intensified pressures of grief. Eventually you will remember the good times, and the bad ones will fade. Remember, when death comes…part of the deceased lives on with the survivor.
Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me by Doug Mannig
For Bereaved Grandparents by Margaret Gerner
Holiday Help by Sandra Graves, Ph.D., A.T.R. and Sherry Williams, R.M., B.A.
Living When Your Loved One Has Died by Earl A Grollman, Ph.D.
Men and Grief by Carol Staudacher
No Time For Goodbyes by Janice Lord
Suicide Survivors: A Guide For Those Left Behind by Adina Wrobleski
The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff
Time Remembered: A Journal for Survivors by Earl A Grollman, Ph.D.