Whenever many people think or hear the word ‘grief’ what immediately comes to mind is loss associated with death. But what many people may not realize is that they can experience grief for many other reasons too.
The hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, and floods are prime examples of catastrophic events that affected many people in many ways. They have forever changed their view of the normalcy they once knew. And because of the effects of these disasters, and other catastrophic events, i.e., loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of pets, many people may be experiencing grief and not know it.
For the many people who lost loved ones during these disasters, there were many other trickle-down effects of these disasters that caused grief; and for many they’re still experiencing grief as hurricane season approaches year after year. Those effects include our basic need for survival, our losses of possessions, our livelihoods, our sense of belonging, our communities and neighbors, our sense of peace, and loss of our sense of home; which has left many in a state of shock and bewilderment.
Let’s take a look at the definition of grief:
• Grief: n 1. Deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement; 2. A source of deep mental anguish; 3. Annoyance or frustration: Example: Trying to follow their directions was nothing but grief; 4. Trouble or difficulty: Example: the grief of trying to meet a deadline. *
As stated preciously, in addition to loss due to death, we can also experience grief when there is a change in our environment, after a divorce or breakup in a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of pets, etc.
Grief is our response to that loss or change. Everyone reacts to things differently, and it is the same with grief. There are many factors that will determine our reaction to grief; factors such as our personality, age, the relationship we had with our deceased loved one(s), our culture, and our spiritual beliefs and upbringing.
There are five steps to the grief process, Disbelief, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Everyone may not experience all the steps of the grief process, just as everyone doesn’t experience them in the same order.
There is no right way or wrong way to grieve, and misconceptions about a right or wrong way in the grief process can make the bereaved person question their feelings in relation to the deceased or their sanity if their grief doesn’t happen in neat orderly fashions as society dictates or it doesn’t happen in a timely manner, or we don’t accept the loss when others think we should. I can’t count the many times I’ve heard people say, “Oh you should be over your grief by now.”
Understanding what grief can be like; finding ways to safely express those emotions, and coming up with coping strategies can help the bereaved person endure the pain of their loss or the change in their environment.
Grief includes a wide range of emotions that include, but are not limited to: anger, anxiety, change in worldview, confusion, depression, despair, drop in self-esteem, fear of going insane, feeling unable to cope, guilt and remorse, helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, questioning your value and belief system, relief, shock and disbelief.
Losing a loved one or being faced with a change in your normal environment can be life-shattering events that affect you emotionally, physically and spiritually. So it is important that you try to look after yourself in order to help you move along in the grief process, and not become stagnant in one or more of the steps of the grief process.
Some suggestions that might help you progress through grief are:
• Diet and exercise – grief’s impact on the body can cause symptoms including sleeplessness, anxiety, restlessness that can affect your internal system as well. Taking care of you by paying attention to diet and getting regular exercise can help to alleviate many, if not all of these problems.
• Relaxation - schedule some time every day to wind down, using whichever methods that work for you, i.e., meditation, taking long baths, playing sports, reading, doing hobbies such as cooking/baking, doing puzzles, surfing the internet or listening to music.
• Avoid chemical stimulants - try to avoid turning to drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol or antidepressants to help you manage your grief. They won't ease your pain. They can cause other health problems and in some cases can assist in prolonging your grief.
• Be realistic - try to be kind and gentle to yourself. Accept that you need to grieve in the ways that feel natural to you. Don't judge or criticize yourself for not coping as well as you think you should or how others think you should.
Some coping strategies to help you through grief include:
• Crying - Some people feel that crying isn't appropriate or else they're afraid that once they start crying, the tears won't stop. If you feel the need to cry, do it. Crying is our normal human response to many of life’s heartaches. However, if there are no tears, it does not mean that there is no grief. As I’ve said before, everyone grieves differently. Crying is cleansing and good for the soul.
• Spend time alone - schedule time alone every day to focus on your feelings and express them in whichever way feels natural to you. For example, you may choose to study the word of God and praying, or write a diary or journal. Computers can simplify the journaling process for you, as there are many uses with them. Computers come loaded with writing programs already installed on them, i.e., Word, Word Perfect, and if you have access to the Internet, there’s the world of Blogging.
A Blog, short for weblog is defined as a personal or noncommercial web site that uses a dated log format (usually with the most recent addition at the top of the page) and may contains links to other web sites along with commentary about those sites.**
There are many free online sites that provide the place and space for you to create an online. Some are:
• Your computer should have some type of Microsoft software already installed on your computer, i.e., Word, Word Perfect, Notes, etc. Using this alternative, no one can view your journal unless you want them to do so.
The following website is also a good resource for finding online diaries and journals: http://dir.yahoo.com/Social_Science/Communications/Writing/Journals_and_Diaries/Online_Journals_and_Diaries/. Or you can simply Google the words, online journal or online diaries, for additional options that may be best suited for your needs.
Other forms of coping strategies are:
• Spending time with your family - schedule time to grieve as a family if possible. This time could include talking about the deceased, crying together and sharing your feelings together.
• Pampering yourself - include activities in your daily or weekly schedule that you enjoy, i.e., a massage, a spa treatment, getting manicures and/or pedicures, or hair done.
• Developing a Support system (if you don’t already have one) - actively seek out support from others. This could include friends, co-workers, doctors, community health centers, bereavement support groups or professional counselors. Talking is helpful in just about every situation life presents. Talking can keep those involved from feeling isolated. The right words spoken from the right person at the right time can make all the difference in the world to the bereaved. Don't be ashamed to discuss your feelings that may arise from any situation that may cause you grief.
In addition to interacting with a support system physically, there are online groups that offer support as well. Some online support groups are:
There are hundreds, if not thousands more groups like these. If you have Internet access, you can perform a search using key words such as grief, grief groups, or grief support to find one that’s suitable for you.
• Create a memorial – If may like to write letters to your loved one, plant a memorial tree, put together a special photo album, or commemorate their life in whichever ways feel meaningful to you and your family. Again, the Internet can be a nice source for creating an online web site or displaying and sharing photos with others. If you have Internet connections, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide capabilities for doing this. Some free Websites that allow you to create memorial sites for your loved ones are:
• Seek Professional help - see your family physician for help and referral if you feel out of control and regardless of what you do, you can’t progress through one or more of the steps of the grief process.
Remember, healing is the end result of the steps of grief. By healing, I mean coming to terms and accepting the loss. While many, if not all of the emotions associated with grief seem to come and go, it is important to feel them and accept them. There is no quick fix or magic pill that will suddenly make these feelings and emotions disappear overnight, or in days, weeks or even months, especially with loss through death, but grief can be short-lived for some things that cause you grief.
With the passage of time, patience, and compassion from yourself and others, you will eventually be able to find your center again. You will feel restored and you will be able to adapt to your new ‘normal’. Also remember that time does heal all wounds. End.
About the Author:
Vanessa Alexander Johnson is the author of, When Death Comes a Knockin’ (Lulu Press, March 2005, ISBN: 1-4116-2470-X), a self-help, inspirational book about loss and grief. Johnson currently lives in Louisiana with her husband and daughter. Web Site: www.vanessaajohnson.com - Email: vjohns1.bellsouth.net
*The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.