When someone dies that you are close to, you may experience a mixture of feelings and emotions. These feelings are likely to come and go in stages and can often leave you feeling totally overwhelmed and exhausted.
The emotions you are likely to experience will be influenced by the type of relationship you had with the person, and also the events that happened in the lead up to their death.
It is also really important to know that every single person deals with grief in a different way. There is no ‘normal’ way to feel. Your personality, your lifestyle, your family environment and your religion are all going to play their part in influencing your coping mechanisms, too.
Unfortunately, grieving is a natural process that we all have to live with. Therefore, accepting the feelings and symptoms associated with it is the first step in the healing process.
Whatever the circumstances are, when you hear of a death, there is a very common feeling of shock. Even if a death didn’t come as a surprise and a person was elderly or ill for a long period of time, the shock is still likely to hit you as the circumstance becomes so final.
These feelings of shock can be overwhelming and can leave you feeling numb and ‘emotionless’. Many people worry that they have not cried about the person that they love, but this is completely normal. It’s your bodies way of coping with very intense emotion. In other situations, you may find yourself crying uncontrollably for days on end. Again, this is an entirely normal process.
This overwhelming shock and numbness is likely to last for the first six months or beyond after a person’s death. But, gradually, over time, these emotions will fade and slowly become less intense.
Depending on the circumstances of a person’s death and the relationship you had with them, the feelings you experience are likely to be mixed.
There may be an overlying sense of relief – especially if a person has been ill or suffering for a long time. If you experience this feeling, it’s often accompanied by a feeling of guilt, too. But relief is a natural response and you shouldn’t feel guilty. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t care for the person or that you can’t miss them too.
Another strong emotion that may emerge is anger. You may be angry that your loved one has been taken away from you and left you alone. You may be angry about the circumstances that surrounded their death or even hold someone accountable for their death. Whatever angers you about the situation, again, these feelings are very common. Blame is a way of rationalising what happened by shifting the guilt onto someone else. Again, your feelings of anger are likely to change and soften over time.
Perhaps you are experiencing a sense of regret following the death of someone? There may be things you wish you had done or said before they died and now you feel like you will never get the chance. Perhaps the last connection you had with this person wasn’t a positive one and you feel like you never got closure in time. Your feelings of regret are completely normal and to be expected. As you learn to accept your collective group of feelings, you will work them out and they will become less severe.
Just as physical symptoms appear as a cause of stress and anxiety, they may also appear as you experience grief. You may find yourself unable to sleep, or perhaps you find that you are sleeping much more than before. You may completely lose your appetite, or you may find yourself wanting to comfort eat more. You are likely to feel drained and exhausted, which may result in headaches, poor digestion and a lowering of your immune system, meaning that you pick up bugs and colds easier.
Whatever symptoms you experience as a result of grief, it’s really important that you treat yourself kindly and with compassion. Give your body lots of rest, sleep, relaxation and healthy food. Also, try to get fresh air whenever you can, and whenever you feel like you can manage it. Looking after yourself is always important, but especially so when you are grieving.
In our next article on coping with grief, we will look at different ways to cope with the feelings you are experiencing and things you can do to help with your grieving process.
In the meantime, if you want someone to talk to about the loss of someone close to you, then I am here for you. I work with many people who have experienced grief and who are dealing with a number of different situations at the same time.