Suffering with grief following the death of a loved one is likely to be the most life-changing loss anyone will ever suffer whether it’s a partner, spouse or, in certain tragic circumstance, a child.
Following bereavement, a whole range of emotions, from sadness, loneliness, anxiety and helplessness, are likely to overwhelm anyone and may leave us feeling isolated and incapable of functioning. Two emotions that many of us also unexpectedly feel are anger and relief; anger at being left to cope alone or relief because we have suffered through our loved ones decline, often as the primary caregiver. These particular emotions are often swiftly followed by feelings of guilt simply for feeling that anger or relief.
Going through such an emotional rollercoaster is complicated and varies from person to person both in time scale and extremity. Many of us can take a very long time to begin to accept our loss and move on, despite the gap in our hearts.
Although there is no magic wand to assist us through the healing process, there are a few practical steps that we can take to help ourselves to cope:
- Don’t try to ignore your feelings and try to remember that you are allowed to feel a whole range of emotions – it’s perfectly normal to dwell on memories, even if they are sometimes negative ones. Feeling anger at being ‘left’ behind is OK.
- Try to keep to a normal routine. Eating, drinking and taking regular exercise will keep your mind and body busy. Stick to a healthy and balanced diet as much as possible even if cooking seems like too much effort. Staying healthy will help you begin to feel better. Avoid false ‘numbing’ agents such as alcohol – they only take the pain away temporarily. Remember that alcohol is also a depressant and may make you feel far worse.
- Keep to your usual sleep routine whenever possible. If you struggle to get to sleep make an appointment with your GP. They can prescribe mild relaxants which can help you to drift off without resorting to strong and addictive sleeping tablets.
- Don’t make immediate and rash decisions. Making major life-changing decisions such as moving home, etc. are best left until later on. You could end up regretting a decision made when you are not thinking as clearly as usual.
- Don’t be afraid to express your feelings – talking to a family member or close friend can be a great support and will help to begin the grieving process. Remember that they will likely be grieving too and sometimes sharing memories is helpful. Some people may feel hesitant about mentioning the name of the person who has passed away because they don’t want to hurt you – but if you want to talk you can initiate the conversation to make the other person understand that you are happy to reminisce.
- If you find it hard to express yourself to family and friends it may well be that you need to consider grief counselling. If you are feeling depressed and isolated it is paramount to seek some outlet for your feelings. Talk to your GP first and they will help you decide if one-to-one counselling is the right direction for you personally.
- There are also support groups who may be able to help you to come to terms with your loss. Certain groups specialise in help for parents who have lost children or people who have lost a spouse or partner. Your GP, Church, local hospital or Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help you with information of where to look for details of specific groups.
Finally, give yourself time to work through your grief. Everyone is different and although some people appear to spring back to normal life very quickly, none of us really ever know how that particular person may be feeling deep inside. Accept your feelings and know that grieving is a process that you have to work through at your own pace and in your own way.