When One You Loved Has Died
by James E. Miller
You’ll grieve in your own unique way,and a general pattern will emerge as you do so.
Those around you may be full of ideas about how you’re supposed to grieve, and how not. You may be told that grief comes in clear-cut stages and you may even be given a name for the stage you’re supposedly going through. You may hear advice like "Be strong!" or "Cheer up!" or "Get on with your life!" rather than be encouraged to allow your grief to run its natural course. It’s important for you to be clear that this is your grief, not theirs. You’ll grieve in no one’s way but your own.
Grief can affect your mind and body.
Grief is about more than your feelings—it will show up in how you think. You may disbelieve this person actually died. You may have episodes of thinking like this even long after they died. Your mind may be confused, your thinking muddled. You may find it difficult to concentrate on just about everything. Or you may be able to focus your attention but all you can focus on is the one who died, or how they died, or your life together before they died.
Physical responses are also to be expected. You may experience tightness in your throat, heaviness across your chest, or pain around your heart. Your stomach may be upset, along with other intestinal disturbances. You may have headaches, hot flashes, or cold chills. You may be dizzy at times, or tremble more than usual, or find yourself easily startled. Some people find it hard to get their breath.
You may, in addition, undergo changes in your behavior. You may sleep less than you used to and wake up at odd hours. Or you may sleep more than normal. You may have odd dreams or frightening nightmares. You may become unusually restless, moving from one activity to another, sometimes not finishing one thing before moving on to the next. Or you may sit and do nothing for long periods. Some people engage in what’s called "searching behavior"—you look for your loved one’s face among a crowd of people, for instance, even though you know they’ve died. You may become attached to things you associate with your loved one, like wearing an article of their clothing or carrying a keepsake that belonged to them. Or you may wish to avoid all such reminders.
Grief can affect your relationships and everyday activities.
Many grieving people want to spend more time alone. Sometimes they’re drawn to the quiet and safety they experience there, and sometimes it’s a way of dodging other people. Even venturing out to the grocery store, a shopping mall, or a worship service can feel uncomfortable. There are some people, however, who want to be around others even more than before.
You may find that you’re jealous of people around you who aren’t grieving. You may envy what they have that you don’t. You may resent how much they take for granted when you now realize that nothing should ever be taken for granted. You may become critical in ways that are unlike you. Fortunately, this shift is usually temporary.
Some grieving people report unusual happenings that are not easy to describe yet seem very real. You may be going about your daily life and suddenly have a sense of your loved one’s presence. Some people report having auditory or visual experiences related to this person. At times the loved one offers a message during a dream or time of meditation. Try not to worry if something like this should happen to you once in a while. Such experiences are more common than you might think.
Research also indicates that people’s responses during times of personal loss will be influenced by how they’re raised, their genetic make-up, and society’s expectations. Consequently, some people are naturally more feeling-oriented as they grieve, while others are more oriented toward using their thinking processes. Some respond outwardly, while others keep to themselves. Some want to have a close network of friends around them, and others prefer to be independent. Ordinary, healthy grief has many possible faces and can express itself in many different ways. You are your own person, with your own personality, your own life experiences, your own relationship with the one who died, and your own understanding of life and death. So you should not expect a "one-size-fits-all grief" that will suit you. You’re too unique for that.
Generally a pattern will unfold.
Despite your individual uniqueness, you’ll probably discover an overall pattern to your grief as it progresses. It often begins with a time of shock and numbness, especially if the death was sudden. Everything seems unreal. This is usually followed by a time when pain sets in. Sadness, loneliness, helplessness, and fear may come over you in powerful waves. Anger and guilt may do the same, and continue for awhile. In time there comes a slowly growing acceptance of what has happened, but it’s not necessarily a happy acceptance. It’s common to feel listless and lifeless, discouraged and sometimes depressed. Other strong emotions can still pop up. This is the winter of your grief—a long, slow, dormant period. In actuality, something is beginning to grow, but it’s hidden deep underground.
A time of gradual reawakening eventually occurs, though you can’t always predict when. Energy begins to return. So does hope. Finally there comes a time of renewed life. You’re not the same person you were before—you’ll be different, having been changed by this experience, having grown. You’ll forge a new relationship with the one who died, a relationship that transcends time.
This entire process is very fluid. It may not feel very orderly. These time periods will flow into one another almost imperceptibly. But when you look back, you’ll recognize what’s happened: by going all the way through your grief, you’ve taken the path toward your healing.
Jim Miller http://www.willowgreen.com