“Loss is the absence of something we were once attached to. Grief is the rope burns left behind when what we have held to most dearly is pulled out of reach, beyond our grasp.” – Stephen Levine
What is grief?
When a person loses someone or something (perhaps the possibility of a relationship with a loved one) important to them, they go through a process called grieving. Grieving is natural and should be expected. Over time, it can allow the person to accept their loss and integrate the experience within their life in a way that honors the reality of the past and the options for the future. Grieving involves feeling many different emotions over time, all of which help the person come to terms with the loss of a loved one. Grief can be challenging for individuals who have suffered trauma, have other mental or physical health issues, or are dealing with addiction in any form.
Bereavement is what a person goes through when someone close to them dies. It is the state of having suffered a loss.
Mourning is the outward expression of loss and grief. Mourning includes rituals and other actions that are specific to each person’s culture, personality, and religion. Bereavement and mourning are both part of the grieving process, and require effort and support that is somewhat external to be fully accomplished. Although many people try to keep their mourning to themselves for fear of the pain they experience negatively impacting others, the tasks of grieving are more easily worked through with help and support.
What are the effects of grieving?
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Researchers have studied grief to better understand the ways people work through a loss and over time come to accept it. They have identified emotional states that people may go through while grieving.
The first feelings usually include shock or numbness. Then, as the person sees how his or her life is affected by the loss, emotions start to surface. The early shock and numbness is often replaced by other emotions, including anger, loneliness, disbelief, or denial. These feelings can come and go over a long period of time. The final phase of grief is the one in which people find a way to come to terms with the finality of the loss and ways to create a “new normal” and reinvest in a world that no longer includes their loved one.
Everyone grieves differently, but there are also common threads to the grieving experience. Grief tends to come in waves of distress. The person may seem disorganized. He or she may have trouble remembering, thinking, and doing day-to-day activities. This can last for weeks to months. The person may withdraw socially, have trouble thinking and concentrating, become restless and anxious, not feel like eating, look sad, feel depressed, dream of the deceased, have hallucinations or “visions” in which they briefly hear or see the deceased, lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, feel exhausted physically, become preoccupied with death, search for reasons for the loss (sometimes with results that make no sense to others), dwell on mistakes, (real or imagined) that he or she made with the deceased, feel guilty or responsible for the loss, feel distant from others, express anger or envy at seeing others with their loved ones.
The “symptoms” of grief rarely follow the timeline our culture expects. Finding support, no matter how long it has been since the loss and how others think you should be doing is the key to full recovery and acceptance of the loss.
How PTI can help
Bereavement counseling is a special type of professional help. This type of counseling has been shown to reduce the level of distress that mourners go through after the death of their loved one. It can help them move more easily through the phases of grief. Bereavement counseling can also help them adjust to their new lives without the deceased.
Adjustment does not mean that all the pain is over. Grieving for someone who was close to you includes losing the future you expected with that person. This must also be mourned. The sense of loss can last for decades. For example, years after a parent dies, the bereaved may be reminded of the parent’s absence at an event he or she would have been expected to attend. This can bring back strong emotions, and may lead to mourning yet another part of the loss. Wherever you are at with the losses you have experienced, honoring the relationship with bereavement counseling or addressing complicated or delayed grief symptoms can be a life-changing experience.