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Loss and grief

grief; loss; death; dying; die; divorce; sad; emotion; numb; move; anger; despair; change;

Contents

Grief is the term used to describe the feelings we have after a loss. It is natural to feel overwhelmed with emotions like pain, anger and sadness. Sometimes you can even feel numb. This article is about dealing with the grief after the loss of someone or something really important to you. It looks at doing things in your own style, your own time and in a healthy way.

There is very good information about loss and grief on these two Youth Mental Health websites

Youthbeyondblue
http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/

Headspace
http://www.headspace.org.au/

Loss

Loss can come into our lives in lots of ways, and it affects each of us differently. One of the biggest and most difficult losses is the death of someone really important to you.

There are many types of loss where you might experience sadness, confusion and anger.

  • the death of someone you love
  • the death of a pet
  • your parents or other important people splitting up or getting divorced
  • separation from a parent, both parents or your family
  • separation from friends or your community
  • moving away from home or leaving your country
  • splitting up with your partner
  • being forced to give up something you want to keep (like your job, your child, or your home)
  • losing your job
  • leaving school or university
  • losing the ability to do some things through disability
  • becoming really sick or seeing someone else become really sick

Even when something happens that appears positive, such as leaving school and starting work, we can experience some feelings of grief for what we've left behind.

When we have a loss in our life, we go through reactions of grief. These reactions and feelings are different for everyone. You always feel loss in your own unique way.

What is grief?

When you grieve you might notice some of these feelings. You might not feel all of them, and you might not feel them in the same order.

  • Denial, shock or disbelief - "It hasn't really happened", "This isn't real", "I must be dreaming", "She is just fooling around", "He will be back". This is like a temporary relief and helps you to avoid getting completely taken over by grief.
  • Questions, questions, questions - You try to make sense of the loss. These might be related to feelings of guilt - "Why didn't I?", "If only I had…", "I should have…", or confusion - "What is going on?", "I don't understand", "What happened?".
  • Anxiety - Loss can be scary. You might think about your future - "What will I do?", "How will I cope?" - or have a fear of losing control - "I'm going to lose it…", "I can't stop it…", "What else might I lose without me being able to stop it?"
  • Anger - Anger comes from other feelings, like feeling abandoned, hurt or scared. You might express anger in lots of ways. You might direct your anger at people you think caused the loss. "Why did you…?", "You always…", "You never cared" - or feel helplessness - "I couldn't stop it", "I can't change anything", "I can't cope".
  • Crying, sobbing, depression. Sadness might feel like a black cloud over your whole world. You might long for what you have lost. You might lose interest in life - you don't want to go out, or see or do things you usually do. You might feel loneliness, or feel you have no one to turn to.
  • Reality and acceptance and adjusting to new life patterns - You realise what has happened and the pain does not hurt so much. Everything is different but the struggle is not so huge. Life goes on with the memories and experience of knowing what you once had. You start looking toward the future.
  • Grief can cause physical symptoms like headaches, feeling sick in the stomach, aching muscles, feeling run down, trouble sleeping, feeling tired, having no energy. You might find you get sick more easily.

These feelings can happen at any time and for any length of time. You might have more than one at once. You might feel really good one day and awful the next. Special times like Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries can be difficult. You may return to a feeling and go through it again. Sometimes it can feel worse in the morning, or as you are about to go to sleep. Sometimes you might wonder if you will ever feel 'normal' again.

You will - gradually the pain is with you less often and life finds a new sense of meaning.

If you find you are stuck in one of these feelings and not gradually moving on over time, it would be a good idea to talk to a counsellor about it.

Dealing with loss in harmful ways

Grief affects you in lots of ways. Not only do you have a rush of emotions that can be hard to cope with, but you might also do things that can be harmful!

  • You might use drugs and alcohol to try and cover up the pain or make it go away. Many people think using drugs or alcohol is the only way, or a good way to deal with the pain. But this method may just 'put off' or prolong the natural process of grief, as well as doing you harm.
  • You might hurt other people. It's natural to feel angry when you grieve. Anger is sometimes the emotion you show when there are a whole heap of other emotions happening underneath. If you think you've no safe place to express yourself or don't understand what's going on, you might turn anger on other people. Anger is a natural emotion; violence is a chosen behaviour. Anger can be expressed in a safe way without hurting others.
  • You might hurt yourself. Choosing to hurt yourself is only one choice to express the pain that is happening for you. There are lots of other ways you can choose to express yourself.

If you have chosen any of these things, it can be useful to talk to someone you trust or find other ways to express yourself. Some people express themselves through art or music, others like to write down what they are feeling. This can also be a stepping stone to explaining how you feel to other people.

Tips to help

  • Accept your own feelings – understand that what you are feeling is natural. Let yourself cry, talk about the loss, or have a laugh. Check out the stages of grief. Let yourself feel what you are feeling. The feeling will pass.
  • Express your feelings – talk to someone you trust. Write a letter, poetry or a journal. Paint, draw or sing. Express what you are feeling - your fear, your hurt and your loss. Talk about what you have gained by knowing the person or having the experience you have had. Talk about the good and not so good times.
  • Ceremonies – funerals, ceremonies or memorials can be important. They are opportunities to share your grief with other people, or help accept the end of a part of your life. This is an ending of one phase in your life and the beginning of a new one. Maybe you could do something special with friends and family, like have a remembrance meal.

A young woman who had a lot of loss in her life said to me: "My grandma taught me something I will never forget - that there are no endings in life, only new beginnings." She said this had helped her cope with loss and to move on in her life. - Community Health Worker

  • Take each step at a time - live each day as it comes. Understand and accept disruption in your life. Take control of things you can. Understand there are things you have little or no control over. Give yourself permission to grieve.
  • Move forward - what have you learnt from that person, place or experience? What memories do you have? How have they become part of your life? How might you carry these on? How might you share them with children or others? What place might these skills, attributes, stories or knowledge hold in your future?
  • Support - support is essential. Talk to a friend, family or someone you trust. Sometimes it might feel that people 'don't understand' or 'get sick of your grieving'. It can be useful to check out a counsellor or have a network of supports in your life.
  • Have a laugh - your sense of humour can be a great tool at any hard time. It is OK to laugh at things you would usually laugh at. Advantages of laughter are that they give you just a little break from the pain and release healthy, healing chemicals into your body.
  • Celebrate your memory - plant something as a living memorial. Carry or wear something that reminds you of the person who died or the thing you have lost. Create a memory book or journal with photo's, stories, pictures or poems. Put up a photo or something else that reminds you of that person. Spend time at a place or doing things that you used to do.
  • Explore your spirituality - pray, meditate or spend some time with nature. Use your own personal spirituality to explore what death or loss means to you and your spiritual self.
  • Change - be open to new ways of doing things. When it feels right, start something new. Don't feel guilty about this, it is part of healing and you will never lose what your relationship with the person you have lost has given you.
  • Be aware - it is natural to become more dependent on others immediately after a loss. It is not useful to keep this going for a long time. Keep an eye out for signs that indicate that you are not gradually feeling better. Give yourself a pat on the back when you do things for yourself.
  • Reward yourself - be kind to yourself. Do things you like doing. Treat yourself to things that make you happy. When you feel ready, do something to help someone else. Soak up the enjoyment as much as you can!
  • Write down the things you have learnt - what have you noticed about yourself in this time? What have you found hardest? How did you over-come the hard things? What did you find easiest? What does this tell you about yourself? What have you learnt about your life? What beliefs have you gained, let go of or are new to you? How might you use this knowledge in your future? If you write it down, you will see how you are gradually feeling better.

Note: It is not usually a good idea to make major life changing decisions in the first few months after the loss. It is often better to wait until your life is back in balance again.

Remember that others around you may be feeling grief too. You may be able to help them.

Does grief affect people differently?

Sure does! Some people don't like to make a fuss; others let everyone know how they are feeling. Men and women are treated differently in our society. This can mean they may express their grief differently. Different cultures and religions see death, loss and grief in different ways. How you express your grief and the meaning you give to loss will be in your own way, based on your own beliefs and view of the world.

I had never felt such grief and pain as when my little baby Stevie died. I was scared that I was going insane because I felt like dying. I was too afraid to tell anyone. Then I met a woman whose son had also died. She told me there was many a time she felt like dying but always found reasons to stay alive. Relief flooded through me. I wasn't insane after all. Other people felt this way too. This was a natural feeling to the situation I was in. - Tracy, 23 years

When you are grieving for someone or something you have lost, it is natural to feel that you are alone in this. Everyone in the world has to deal with loss. Know that you are not alone, and reach out to others. Some may not be good at supporting you, but all can understand what you are going through.

Resources

South Australia

General

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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