[NOTE: I wrote this article in the ‘90s! It’s an oldie, but goodie. Readers can laugh about “the voice machine” reference!]
[UPDATE, December, 2020: With COVID-19, grief is profound and complex, please reach out for support. I am just a contact form or call away].
A loved one dies, leaving a hole in your life. Your world is off-kilter and you feel so all alone. How difficult it is to manage! Life seems unreal. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, let along get to work. When the telephone rings, you don’t pick up the receiver, even with the volume up on your voice machine and a friend saying, “Pick-up.”
You simply don’t want to do so. In the back of your mind, you wonder “Is something wrong with me?”
The answer probably is no. Grief is not a mental illness. It is a normal, necessary process. It is a process that takes some time and it is a process which is not the same for everyone. There are individual differences in the way people mourn. There is no right way to feel while mourning.
A person who is mourning might feel a whole range of emotions:
- Guilt or regret (“If I had only…”)
- Yearning (for the lost person)
- Emancipation, relief (after caring for a person who died of a lengthy illness)
- Numbness, and possibly accompanying physical sensations (hollowness in stomach, dry mouth).
Grief can affect the way a person thinks, too. There can be:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Preoccupation with particular thoughts.
A person grieving can also experience a sense of a presence, as if the loved one somehow still is present.
These internal experiences may have a counterpart in a mourner’s behavior. A bereaved individual may:
- Have trouble sleeping or little appetite
- Behave absentmindedly
- Withdraw socially
- Have dreams of the deceased
- Avoid reminders of the deceased
- Have restless activity
- Sigh a lot
- Search, call out for the loved one who died
- Seek out places and objects that were dear to their loved one
During the year or so after a loved one dies, it can help to have the support of friends and community. They can offer support as you come to terms with the reality of your loss, work through various painful feelings that are a part of the grieving process, adjust to a world without your loved one in it, and to move on, forge new relationships while keeping the deceased loved one someplace in your life.
Sometimes, it helps to supplement that circle of support with a bereavement support group.
In a bereavement group, there is plenty of time and space to grieve. Mourners can talk safely and confidently about their feelings, even the problematic ones. A bereavement support group can help in all phases of grief. It can be very therapeutic to discuss how to live in the world without your loved one with others who understand and are also experiencing grief. The members of the group usually do not know each other beforehand, which means a grieving person gets practice relating to others anew following the death of a loved one.
Sometimes, grieving gets a little out of hand. When the grieving process is complicated, an individual may benefit from grief counseling or psychotherapy. There are various signs to indicate that working with a professional might help. For instance, while the grieving process has no deadlines attached to it, if you have been grieving for a prolonged period – well over a year – it might make sense to call a grie counselor. If the very mention of the deceased loved one still brings on fresh or intense grief, you may benefit from counseling. Or, if you find you are unable to part with the belongings of your deceased loved one, therapy might help you. Meeting with a therapist, you can get help to assess what sort of difficulties you are having with the grieving process and to determine whether grief counseling suits you.
In therapy, you can resolve the difficulties and obstacles you have with the grieving process. To resolve the problems, you may have to explore with the therapist some painful memories and what they bring up. Even early childhood memories can interfere with a person’s ability to grieve in the present. By airing some of those issues and then understanding and mastering them, you can develop a new capacity to acknowledge your recent loss, end the grieving process, and say a final good-bye.