What is Normal in Loss and Bereavement?
By Karla Helbert, MS, LPC
Once someone we love has died, our new normal is something completely different from anything we have known before. We are different than we were before. Our lives are different than they were before. “Normal” seems like something far, far away. Unfortunately, this is the new normal. Losing someone you love dearly, who was an integral part of your life, is an intense and incredibly difficult experience. Often, bereaved people find that their grief can be misunderstood by others who have not experienced the same kind of loss or who have not yet faced the death of someone they who was an integral part of their lives.
Grief affects us physically. It can feel like a weight on our bodies. Grieving people frequently experience changes in appetite, either eating more or less than usual. You may feel as though you are having difficulty breathing. Your energy level may change. Usually grieving people experience a decrease in energy; getting out of bed can seem like a huge task, but occasionally, energy levels can be extremely high. You may experience headaches or other pain in various parts of your body, including pain in the chest. You may notice changes in your sleeping patterns, including inability to sleep, frequent waking, or sleeping more than is usual for you. Some grieving people report having increased sensitivity to loud noises or light.
Grief affects us cognitively, changing the way we think, or how our brains work. We may feel confused, in disbelief, have feelings of unreality, we may forget things, or have trouble getting our thoughts together. Many people have experiences of seeing or hearing their loved ones. Grieving people also have frequent thoughts of their loved one and often spend a lot of time trying to “make sense” of the loss.
Spiritual and Philosophical Changes
Grief affects us spiritually on very deep levels. No matter what a person’s religion or spiritual belief system, the death of someone we love deeply changes us. Why did this happen? Why did God let him or her die? Why me? Why is God punishing me? What did I do wrong to deserve this? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Where is my loved one now? Can they see me or feel me? Some grieving people may find that everything we thought we knew or believed is called into question after the death of a loved one. It is common to face a spiritual crisis following the death of a loved one. Some grieving people find their spiritual lives become greatly enriched and find great strength in spiritual or religious practices including increased prayer, meditation, or other spiritual activities.
While we expect to feel sadness, sometimes the intensity of that sadness can take us by surprise. Feelings of shock and numbness, the sense of unreality, as if this cannot be really happening, feeling anxious or guilty are all common emotions grieving people feel. Other emotions such as irritability, frustration, anger, loneliness, are also normal. Feeling depressed, hopeless, or having no interest in activities that previously interested you can also be very normal. It can be very common to experience relief after a person you loved has died, particularly if your loved one suffered greatly or if the illness was extremely prolonged.
There is Hope
Sometimes it seems that many people in our society believe that the time for grieving should be over soon after the funeral, or at most, a few weeks or months later. This is not true. Your process for healing may last several months, or even years. There is no specific time-table for healing to occur. The strongest and most intense feelings generally occur over the first year following the person’s death. Even after the immediate, intense feelings subside, it is important to know there will always be times throughout your life when you will miss your loved one and feel sad.
Support and help when you are grieving is very important. Talking to people who are non-judgmental and supportive is helpful; people who will not tell you what you should do or shouldn’t do or what you need to do, or what you need to stop doing. Find a friend or family member who can be there for you, or attend a support group.
Support groups can be very helpful for grieving people and can provide the kind of non-judgmental listening support grieving people need. Groups will include sharing the stories of our loved ones, our individual experiences, discussing various coping skills and creating personal rituals and memorials to honor our loved ones.
Crater Community Hospice offers support groups throughout the year in two locations. On Thursday, February 24, a group will begin from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. through March 31st. Group sessions are free but pre-registration is requested. To register contact Karla Helbert at 804-892-2782 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Crater Community Hospice at 804-526-4300.