The loss of a loved one is something that is very difficult to go through. We often don’t know what we could expect to feel or experience in a time that feels unreal. Loss doesn’t only apply to losing a loved one – it can also include loss of a relationship or loss of a job or possessions as a result of job loss. Whatever the ‘cause’, grief is different for everyone, but there are some common aspects that are helpful to understand.
Stages of grief and bereavement
Note: while these are presented as ‘stages’, this does not mean they always take place in this order – you may move backwards and forwards between stages, or spend different amounts of time processing each stage’s emotions.
The first thing many people experience following a loss is a state of shock or denial. Things may not feel real, and questions may arise around the meaning of things, how or why you should even carry on with your life in any way, and whether it is worth it. Things may feel like they make no sense, and the reality of the loss has not set in.
Anger can often feel endless; you may feel angry at the person, your family, the circumstances, the health system, doctors, other people, and even a higher power.
You may try to make arrangements or bargain with others or a higher power to try to “save the person”, get them back, or minimise harm.
This is often where reality starts to set in and you move your attention to your present situation. You may feel intense sadness, feel like withdrawing from others, or feel like doing nothing. Depression as a stage of grief is not the same as depression as a diagnosable mental health illness. A state of depression following the loss of a loved one is a normal and appropriate response, and often with time will move into a space of acceptance.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that everything suddenly feels all right or that you are completely healed or okay with the loss of your loved one. This stage is more about realising that life without your loved one is the way things are going to be and you learn to live with that – even though it will still hurt, or you may still feel intense sadness or loss daily.
Some physical symptoms you may experience during grief
Shock symptoms such as shaking, inability to move, stomach aches and headaches, exhaustion, and feeling on edge. These will usually pass after a few days; if they don’t please seek professional assistance
Insomnia and nightmares
Feeling alone and that no one understands you and what you are going through
Anger and regret
When to seek help:
Following a loss, feelings of sadness, desperation, anger, loneliness, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, appetite changes, etc. are normal.
However, if any of these emotions feel overwhelming, or you find you are not coping, then seeking professional help is a good option. If these symptoms persist over a longer period of time, then professional help may be beneficial too.
The COPE teams are available to assist you – click here you can book an appointment.
Megan Hosking, Psychiatric Intake Clinician, Akeso Clinics