How to Deal with the death of a loved one
The death of a loved one is an event that all of us are likely to experience during our lifetime, often, sadly on numerous occasions.
Dealing effectively and positively with grief caused by such a loss is central to your recovery process and your ability to continue with and fulfill your own life for the better, but is oftentimes easier said than done.
We have put together some thoughts to help you understand some of the emotions you are likely to go through after the death of a loved one and to offer some suggestions on how best to cope and deal with these emotions.
What is Grief?
You’ll grieve in your own unique way. 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 is about more than your feelings—it will show up in how you think. You may disbelieve this person actually died. 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.
There is even a physical aspect to grief.
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 behaviour.
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.
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.
How can I help a friend with the death of a loved one
Someone you know may be experiencing grief – perhaps the loss of a loved one, perhaps another type of loss – and you want to help. The fear of making things worse may encourage you to do nothing. Yet you do not wish to appear to be uncaring.
Remember that it is better to try to do something, inadequate as you may feel, than to do nothing at all. Don’t attempt to sooth or stifle the emotions of the griever. Tears and anger are an important part of the healing process. Grief is not a sign of weakness. It is the result of a strong relationship and reserves the honour of strong emotion.
When supporting someone in their grief the most important thing is to simply listen. Grief is a very confusing process; expressions of logic are lost on the griever. The question “tell me how you are feeling” followed by a patient and attentive ear will seem like a major blessing to the grief stricken. Be present, show that you care, listen. It does not matter that you do not understand the details, your presence is enough.
How can I help a child with the death of a loved one?
Children grieve just as adults do. Any child old enough to form a relationship will experience some form of grief when a relationship is severed. Adults may not view a child behaviour as grief as it is often demonstrated in behavioural patterns which we misunderstand and do not appear to us to be grief such as “moody,” “cranky,” or “withdrawn.”
When a death occurs, children need to be surrounded by feelings of warmth, acceptance and understanding. This may be a tall order to expect of the adults who are experiencing their own grief and upset. In a very real way, this time can be a growth experience for the child, teaching about love and relationships.