The reality is that even as adults, when we lose a parent or loved one, it is usually a very painful loss. It doesn’t matter if the relationship with that person had conflicts, their death or disappearance will still evoke a myriad of feelings.
Grieving a loss of someone close to us may not be as a result of death alone. Most of us have gone through a relationship separation of some sort – a romantic partner, a close friend or a family member. The reality is that these people are still very much alive, haunting our every thought, and this fact negates any finality to a situation that is already difficult to deal with, like death.
After a death, the grieving process may include periods of feeling numb, anger, shock, sadness, relief, guilt, regret, fear, rage, and depression, and these are all normal emotions associated with loss. You may experience repeated cycles of this grief reaction depending on how you are coping in the situation of losing somebody.
Adults understand all too clearly the finality of death and our inability to control or stop it. The most we can do is to offer a loved one comfort and support to help ensure that they pass with dignity and in a manner that honours their wishes.
The more significant the relationship, usually the greater the sense of loss and grief. Your grieving process is influenced by your individual personality, life experience, the nature of the relationship with the person you lost, how that person died, and ways you cope.
People may respond differently to a sudden death than to a person who has a long and diagnosed illness. With all this in mind, here are several ways to help enhance your understanding of grief and loss in adulthood.
There is No Right or Wrong Way to Grieve
Everybody grieves in their own unique ways, so try not to impose a timetable on yourself regarding how long you should grieve and then “get over it.” It is difficult to prepare yourself for how your grief will impact you and your life and is important to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions emerge. This is the first step that’s crucial towards healing and moving forward.
Grief can often emerge at times when you don’t expect it. Something as simple as seeing someone that reminds you of the person you lost can be a trigger. Other common triggers include holidays and times associated with traditions like birthdays or anniversaries, as these evoke memories of the times you spent with the person and that you won’t get to do again.
Talk About Your Loss
In order to begin the healing process, you will need to feel comfortable enough to talk about the person who has died. Communicating about your loss to your partner, trusted friends and family can be a way of celebrating the life of your loved one and it can help you begin to identify the meaning of their loss.
Information you share during these conversations will give the people around you insights about the best way to offer you support. Discussing your memories may spark the memories of others and you may learn new things about your loved one that can be meaningful.
Social media can also be a great source of support. There are numerous places you can go on line where there are resources, organisations, or chat rooms where you can share your feelings. Sometimes talking with a person who has a similar experience can be a source of comfort and can also reduce your sense of loneliness. For some people, having the chance to support others can help in their own personal healing. Be discreet about where you post and carefully research the programs you want to connect with.
Identify Your Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Strengths
We all have to face moments in our lives that are painful or challenging, so it’s beneficial to think about how you have handled those times in the past.
Our coping mechanisms are the way we think and behave in times of stress or trauma and you may or may not be aware of how you would respond. Some people find it easier to use humour as a way to cope with pain, which is often seen as disrespectful. Exercise is another healthy way to cope and take care of yourself physically, as well as emotionally.
It can be especially challenging for people who were caregivers when the person they were taking care of passes away. Caregiving can be emotionally and physically demanding, as the carer’s own life is often dedicated to and organised completely around the patient. Carers re-adjust their daily lives in order to accept responsibility for another person and then suddenly that person is not a part of their life.
Adapting to their absence and a new daily structure can be difficult and many people are surprised by this sense of emptiness. They feel uncertain of how to manage their time and energy and need to think of other meaningful ways to provide new goals in their life.
Identify and Stop Unhealthy Reactions to Death and Loss
It’s human nature to do what you can to avoid emotional pain. Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol to avoid or numb themselves from their feelings and it is not uncommon for people to stop eating or even eat too much.
You may start to experience ongoing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and nausea. The inability to sleep (or sleep too much) may lead to increased absences from work or school and you may start to have difficulty maintaining relationships. These are all common warning signs that you may need additional help, especially if these behaviours last for an ongoing period of time.
Depression and anxiety are frequent emotions that occur after a death and some people experience thoughts of harming themselves as they start to wonder how their lives will go on after the death of a loved one. Ongoing isolation and seeing their symptoms of grief intensify over time is a clear sign that the person should consider talking to a counsellor or a trained health care professional for additional help.
Take Care of Yourself
These days, many of us are not very good at taking care of ourselves and this is especially true during periods of stress, trauma or after the loss of a loved one. It is important to spend time with people you care about and who care about you. Doing things that will rekindle the joy in your life will build some stepping stones to the future healing process. Try not to allow yourself to feel guilty about your desire to begin to rebuild our life.
Ultimately, every person handles trauma or loss in a different way. Like we discussed before, there is no right or wrong way. Some people take longer to heal than others. Some people need to follow a completely different process compared to another person. There will naturally be ups and downs, however some “downs” can severely impact living our everyday life.
If you feel like you need to talk to somebody about how you’re coping with the loss of a loved one, or if you know somebody who might benefit from a chat, call me anytime.