Decoding Loss and Grief
Updated: Aug 11, 2021
Loss is an inevitable and universal experience. We all experience many types of loss in our lifetime.
Some of the types of losses we experience include:
Death of family members, friends, and pets
Divorce or end of significant relationships
Children leaving home
Loss of job/income
Change in financial status - good or bad
Major health problems and changes
Loss of trust
Loss of safety
Loss of full control through illness, accidents, or other major changes
Loss of hopes, dreams and expectations
Loss of traditions and cultures
Loss of family ties or support
Loss of social connections and activities
Loss of freely moving about/travelling.
Loss of routine
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many layers of losses. It is easy to acknowledge the obvious losses - death of loved ones, losing your house, job, or income. It’s also important to acknowledge the not so obvious ones – loss of family/social connections and activities, loss of safety, loss of freely moving about/travelling, loss of routine. These also impact us mentally and emotionally and cause us to grieve.
When we experience a loss we grieve that loss. We grieve the end or change of any relationship, pattern of behavior, or activity that was emotionally significant to us. Grief is a natural response to loss and is our normal emotional response.
When we grieve, we have emotional, mental, physical, and behavioural responses.
The emotional responses can include sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, irritability, shock.
The mental responses can include reduced concentration, forgetfulness, confusion, indecisiveness, denial, detachment, disorganization.
The physical responses can include numbness, loss of appetite, gastro-intestinal problems, insomnia, nightmares, fatigue, lack of energy, restlessness.
The behavioral responses can include tearfulness, withdrawal or isolating self, increased consumption of food and alcohol, using drugs, overusing medication, increased spending, increased tendency to blame or criticize people close to us, overworking or underworking, increased use of TV, internet, social media, or video games.
How we grieve is unique. Our grieving response is unique, even when we have had the same loss as someone else. How we grieve is based on the relationship we had with the person or activity or thing that we lost, the intensity of the attachment, the duration of the relationship, our personalities, our experiences. Therefore, it is important not to compare our grieving response to others, or to judge our grieving response or that of others.
Just as our grieving response is unique, we also grieve different types of losses differently. Grief can be complicated by traumatic losses, eg, suicide, homicide, miscarriage, accidents, the sudden and unexpected end of a relationship, losing a relationship because of infidelity.
We Are Not Taught How To Cope With Loss And Grief
In our society, we are generally not taught how to cope with loss and grief. As a result, we do not know how to support ourselves when we grieve and we do not know how to support others who are grieving. Below are some helpful tips to support yourself when you are grieving and to support others who are grieving.
How To Support Yourself When You're Grieving
Acknowledge your feelings. When you are grieving, it is important to pay attention to and acknowledge your feelings and reactions, and do not criticize yourself for having the feelings and reactions that you have. Be kind to yourself and experience your feelings without self-criticism.
Do not isolate yourself. It is also important to maintain some social activities. Reach out to and spend time with others - people do care. Take time to talk about your emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral reactions to someone close to you and whom you trust - talking is healing.
Take care of your health. Eat regular, well-balanced meals, and participate in moderate exercise, for example, walking. Do not try to numb the pain of your loss by overeating, using substances, overusing TV, internet, or social media. Also, reduce sources of stress in your life for a while, and take time to rest, and to do relaxing activities.
Seek Support. Take the actions that will help you heal the pain of your loss by reaching out to a therapist, a grief counselor, or a religious leader.
How To Support Others Who Are Grieving
Just as it is important to know how to support yourself when you are grieving, it is equally important to know how to support others who are grieving. When someone is sharing with you about a loss, it is important to listen attentively and show through your facial expression and body posture that you are listening and empathizing. Pay attention to and acknowledge the person’s pain and other emotional responses, and stay away from responding with intellectual comments and a lot of advice. Listen to whatever the person needs to say, however many times it needs to be said.
Some Helpful Statements To Say To Those Who Are Grieving
When you are supporting someone who is grieving, it is helpful to make statements that will resonate with what the person is experiencing emotionally and mentally:
I am sorry for your loss.
I am sorry to hear about what you are going through.
How are you coping with all of this?
I’m here and I want to listen.
Please tell me what you’re feeling.
This must be difficult/painful for you.
You must really be hurting.
What is the hardest part for you?
What Not To Say To Those Who Are Grieving
It is important to stay away from statements that will interfere with or aggravate the person’s grieving experience. Some unhelpful statements to avoid are:
“I understand how you feel.”
You don't understand how the griever feels, even when you have had a similar loss.
“Don’t fall apart; Don’t cry; don’t be upset; Pull yourself together; Don’t dwell on it; or It is time to put this behind you.”
When you make statements like these, you are telling the griever to not feel or to shut down what he or she is feeling, and this can interfere with the person’s expression of grief and getting the support and comfort that are needed.
“You will be okay; You will find somebody else; You can have other children; At least you have another child; You can always get another pet; God will never give you more than you can handle; Be grateful you had him/her for so long; She/he had a full life; She/he is in a better place; She/he is no longer in pain; Death was a blessing; It’s God’s will; It all happened for the best.”
These are intellectual comments that do not acknowledge the griever’s feelings of loss. The griever won’t feel heard, supported and comforted, and will tend to shut down and to isolate him/herself.
What Not To Do To Those Who Are Grieving
Do not avoid the person who is grieving and do not assume that the person wants to be alone. Avoidance can increase the person’s sense of isolation and reduce opportunities for the person to receive comfort and nurturing. A simple “How are you?” or “I am sorry to hear of your loss” can give the griever the opportunity to share and to receive comfort.
Do not stop the person from crying or do not change the subject when the person is sharing because you are uncomfortable with displays of painful emotions. Also, do not compare the person’s loss or make judgments on how the grieving person is reacting or not reacting. Each loss is unique and there is no right or wrong way to react.
Whatever the nature and the cause of your loss, it's important to seek the support that will get you through the painful and challenging times rather than suffer alone. Unresolved grief can accumulate negatively and create additional emotional, mental, and physical distress.
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