Written by Nicola Dalrymple
Loss is a universal experience that affects us all at some point in our lives. Grief is the emotions that people feel when they incur a loss. Grief is most typically linked to bereavement yet loss comes in many forms such as loss of relationship, job or home. Different people respond to loss in different ways for different reasons. It is a time when people are extremely vulnerable so it is important to discuss the topic with the utmost care and sensitivity.
Types of grief
1. Anticipatory griefThis type of grief refers to a grief reaction in anticipation of an impending loss. Research suggests that while those who begin their grief in this form may mentally prepare for the impending loss, they still experience deep emotional reactions when the actually bereavement occurs.
2. Common grief
In general grief moves through gradual stages towards acceptance, however managing daily life can be extremely difficult and normal functioning is typically impaired by distress. Often people bereaved experience time-limited periods of intense distress often called grief bursts. As time progresses most people experience less intense grief, less frequently, and at a lower intensity.
3. Secondary loss
This is a type of grief that occurs after the initial shock. This type of grief may surround future anniversaries or reminders of the loved one who was lost.
4. Complicated grief
Complicated grief is grief that varies from normal or common grief to a high degree. It includes absent grief, delayed grief, chronic grief and distorted grief.
5. Disenfranchised grief
This is grief that a person experiences when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported such as after a termination in pregnancy or death of animal companion. During this time the grieving person feels they cannot express their sorrow and participate in public rituals.
Types of events that may cause grief
- Death of loved one
- Loss of relationship
- Loss of health
- Loss of job
- Fetal terminations
- Loss of friendship
- Loss of financial stability
What are the effects of grief?
While loss is a common phenomenon, it manifests differently in different people. Common symptoms of grief after bereavement include tiredness or exhaustion, guilt, anxiety, stress, longing, pain, shock, numbness, sadness and devastation.
The course of grief
Psychological researchers debate whether grief takes the form of distinct stages. However a general course of grief has been identified and is widely accepted. This includes:
- Disorganisation and despair
Coping with grief
The loss of a loved one is thought to be one of the most intense and distressing experiences people face in their whole lives. It is important to remember that you don’t need to go through grief alone and that seeking support from others is the best thing you can do at this difficult time. Here are some things that may ease the process in some way;
- Be patient, gentle, and kind to yourself in this process
- Remember and celebrate the life of your loved one
- Try to stick to normal routines to the best of your ability
- Make sure to prioritise yourself through sleep, eating well and regular gentle exercise
- Accept support from others
- Try to avoid making major and significant decisions while grieving
- Talk about the person who has died including memories, emotions and stories
- Give yourself permission to grieve
- Allow yourself time to grieve
- Talk about your feelings with others
- Make a memory box
- Start a tradition to honour your loved one like planting a tree
- Set small achievable goals for every day
- Learn and take note of your triggers and develop ways to cope when they arise
- Talk to a therapist who will listen and support you
- Seek help if you need it
Grief and mental health
Generally while grief may initiate some mental health difficulties it is not a diagnosable mental health problem. However, some reactions to grief are ‘abnormal’ in the sense that they may be more intense and/or prolonged than would be expected. ‘Complicated grief’can usually be detected through the following symptoms;
- Symptoms are continuous for a long period of time and get more difficult to cope with over time rather than the counter
- The intense feelings of grief are impacting daily living to debilitating levels
What to do if you feel this way?
It is important to seek professional help if you believe that your grief or the grief of someone you know is having a long term damaging effect on mental health. Such help includes contacting your GP or professional private mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist, therapist or clinical psychologist.
Other places to turn for help:
Other reasons to seek help
- Sleep problems
- Your relationships are suffering
- You’re having sexual problems
Reminders that evoke memories can be obvious such as birthdays or more personal such as smells, tastes and music. These reminders can evoke happy memories or sometimes they can create feelings of deep sadness. It may be helpful to mark such anniversaries and open up about how you are feeling. As time passes by you may be able to shift your focus to the happier memories of good shared times. Examples of ways to honour and remember could be looking through old photos, visiting a special place you shared with the person lost, or hosting a small dinner party with close friends and family.
Supporting people who have been bereaved
It is important that friends and family are there to support those who have been bereaved in both the short term and the long term. Often a hug or touch can speak more than any words. It is vital that the person bereaved is given permission to grieve and is shown there is no shame. They should be given the opportunity to open up and supported in their journey. Offering the correct kind of support can help to avoid feelings of shame or stigma.Here are some practical ways that you can help;
- Acknowledge the loss, don’t avoid contact
- Express that grieving is a normal process
- Allow the bereaved individual to express their emotions
- Allow the bereaved individual to take a break from grieving
- Give the bereaved individual space
- Talk about the person who died
- Help them seek additional support if needed
Contact us, The Blue Tree Clinic, for private support on grief and loss