In our lives losses are part of our daily routine. Some of them are small while others are large. These can be the death of a loved one, house moving, a separation, loss of health, loss of job etc. In these situations, people experience grief. Despite the fact that many notable theories about grief have been formulated, a competent definition of the concept of grief has not emerged. According to Freud, the term grief refers to the psychological state caused to a person by the loss of a loved one, and is the whole of the painful internal process that takes place within a real loss, in order to accept the new reality and to adapt to it. Bereavement consists of normal reactions, but when people haven’t experienced a kind of loss at early age, they often have difficulty in knowing what these reactions are, and they face difficulty to understand theirs or others reactions to the loss.
“My mom died from cancer the summer when I took my university entrance exams. Entire my world collapsed. At first, it was inconceivable to me, I thought that I was having a nightmare, that I had gone crazy. I could not sleep, eat, function. Henceforth, every day I learn to live with this.” P. at the 5th year of studies
“When my grandmother, who raised me, died, I had stomachache, I was dizzy, I had a fast heart for one month, and I remember that I had visited with my mother many doctors, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. I wasn’t crying, I was just thinking, I was angry” K. at the 4th year of studies.
Normal reactions to grief
People often describe a state of shock after the death of a loved one. Emotionally, they may feel sadness, anger, guilt, searching for the person that died and longing for reconnection. They may feel fear, anxiety, a sense of weakness and helplessness, loneliness and irritability. Some may face difficulties in sleeping while others may develop physical symptoms. A person may react to the loss on a physical level and feel that he has no energy, exhaustion, muscular weakness, chest tightness, a knot in the throat, a feeling of emptiness in the stomach-nausea, difficulties in swallowing-dry mouth, gastrointestinal disorders, arrhythmias, sensitivity to noise, feeling that he is not himself. Furthermore, some people feel upset for a long time after the death of a loved one. This agitation, frequently accompanied by hyperactivity, sometimes escalates to panic. The death of a loved one, whether it is sudden or somebody is prepared for it, is a painful experience for the person. In the first weeks and months after mourning, many people feel like they are getting insane, because they have strange experiences. Oftentimes, they feel that they saw, heard or felt the deceased loved one near them, normal experiences that are normal after death.
Feelings usually are switched to depression mood, easily crying, tiredness and lacking attitude. The thoughts are also many “could I have done something differently?”, “why did he/she leave me?”, and the questions to the self are often existential “what’s the point of going on?”. In the grief process, other people’s responses often cause difficulties for the grieving person. Sometimes they don’t know what to say, how to say it or what to do with the grieving person and as a result they act invalidating the feelings of the bereaved “don’t cry, don’t be sad” or due to their difficulty they avoid the bereaved.
Bereavement is always a very difficult time, but there are things that we can do to facilitate it:
- It’s of great importance that you don’t rush as there is no specific recipe or any determined duration time for grief.
- Every person processes his experience in his own different way.
- It is helpful to talk to other people about how you feel and not to keep to yourself.
- At the beginning try to have somebody by your side in order this person to settle some important issues that may arise, such as funeral procedures or home issues, inheritance issues, etc.
- Take care of your health, following a proper diet and getting sufficiently rest.
- It is also important to take care to maintain social contacts and relationships, socialize and, however difficult it may be, attend social events and not isolate yourself.
- In case that you recognize that you are having a lot difficulty, you can address a mental health specialist.
- Finally, family and friends can help you during this difficult period.
The grief process is gradual, long and ongoing. It takes space and time for the person to be able to “fit” within himself, at his own pace, the loss and reinvest in life.