​How do we handle our grief?

Grief is our way of reacting when we lose someone or something important to you. When our loved one passes on, it is normal to feel sad and lonely. If you were the main caregiver for your loved one, you could feel even more upset since you spent a lot of time with him/ her.

The 5 stages of grief

There are usually 5 stages of grief. You may not experience the stages in the exact order shown. It is completely normal to go back and forth between different stages, or to skip stages. You may not even experience all the stages.

Just look at the stages as a guide to help you during your difficult time, so that you understand what you are feeling.

Stage One: Denial and Isolation

You may block out reality at this stage. You may not want to face the facts about what is happening. Sometimes, you may end up wanting to spend a lot of time alone, because you do not want to deal with the outside world. This is your natural reaction to a painful time. It is your mind’s way of ensuring that the pain does not affect you all together at the same time.

What you can do:

Get involved in the practical matters after your loved one’s passing. Be active in arranging the funeral and talk to those who come to pay their respects. Communicate with your children and other family members as much as possible. You do not need to force yourself to be cheerful if you do not feel like it.

Stage Two: Anger

At this stage, you may try to blame others or yourself for what happened. You might argue with healthcare professionals or the funeral director. You may blame doctors or other family members. Sometimes, you might even get angry with complete strangers, or feel that the whole world is against you.

What you can do:

Find out as much as you can about your loved one’s death. Ask the doctor to explain to you one more time about your loved one’s illness. Give yourself some time to accept what is happening. When you have a clear idea of what is going on, you will not end up imagining things.

Stage Three: Bargaining

Bargaining is known as the ‘if only’ stage. Bargaining happens because you are feeling helpless, and you want to know if there is something you could have done differently. You might tell yourself, “If only I had been more patient,” or “Maybe we should have gone to another doctor.” This is very common among caregivers.

What you can do:

For now, you can accept that this is a natural part of grief. Do not make any important decisions based on your feelings at this point. Just try to be patient and work through the feelings. At this stage, it is important to communicate with your closest family and friends.

Stage Four: Depression

At the depression stage, you may feel a great sense of sadness about everything. You might feel that you cannot move on. You might feel lonely. You might even worry about your own health and be afraid that you might also fall seriously ill.

What you can do:

Take time to grieve about your loved one. Spend some time remembering him/ her, and talk about good memories with your family and friends. You do not need to force yourself to cheer up, because it is normal to feel sad. Express your feelings to those closest to you.

Stage Five: Acceptance

At this stage, you will come to accept what has happened. You will come to terms with the situation and accept your loss. This does not mean that you will suddenly become very happy. You may still feel sad. It is just that you are able to deal with your sadness better.

What you can do:

Try to take more interest in everyday activities. This will help to replace some of the painful memories.

How to cope with grief

  • Get good nutrition. You may not realise it, but grief can affect you physically. Eat a balanced diet and take nutritional supplements as directed by your doctor.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Although you may not feel like sleeping much, try to rest as much as you can. If you cannot sleep well at night, sit quietly by yourself and read a book or listen to music.
  • Carry on with your usual activities. Try to keep up with your usual activities as much as possible. They will help you to adapt better, and will take your mind off your pain for a while.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones. Being alone can make grief seem even more serious. Share memories about the deceased and do not be afraid to laugh at funny moments that you have shared.
  • Avoid quick fixes. Many people turn to alcohol, overeating and other addictions during grief. Although they may seem to help, they will actually make life more difficult in the long term.
  • Accept help. Your relatives and neighbours might offer to cook for your family or take care of other household matters. It is fine to accept help from those you trust. It will help you to avoid becoming too tired.
  • Take comfort in a support group or in your faith. Attending a weekly support group meeting can help you communicate with others in the same situation. Prayer and meditation can also help you feel better.
  • Get creative. Write a poem or create a painting to express your feelings. It will help you bring your feelings out and you will be able to cope with your loss in a healthier way.

Know when to get help

There is a difference between grief and serious depression. Serious depression is a mental illness that can put you and your health at risk.

If you experience any of these, see your doctor or visit a counsellor:

  • You feel that your grief is making you unhealthy or sick

  • You feel that you have been grieving for much longer than you want to

  • You keep thinking about harming yourself or ending your life

  • You are worried that you might hurt others

  • You are hallucinating (hearing or seeing things that are not there, or hearing and seeing things that make you feel scared)

  • Your behaviour changes suddenly (like eating very little or eating too much)

  • You have felt hopeless and unable to cope with life for more than two weeks

  • You cannot function at home, work or school

  • You just cannot get over a feeling of guilt if your speaking and body movements have become slow and tired

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Read these next:

  1. https://grief.com/misconceptions/
  2. Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning Health-Care Professionals: Bereaved Persons Are Misguided Through the Stages of Grief. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, 74(4), 455–473. https://doi.org/10.1177/0030222817691870