With the tragedy of the downing of flight MH17 still ringing in our ears, it is hard not to feel sorrow for the loved ones of those who died in such a violent and horrific way. I was deeply saddened to hear about the Queensland family who lost their dearest in both MH17 and MH370 tragedies. It seems unimaginably cruel for one family to bear. With so many people lost, it is reasonable to expect the impact of this to affect individuals and communities for a long time to come in a variety of ways.
The sad reality is that tragedies and losing those close to us happens every day all around the world. At such times, people can feel helpless because they don’t understand the experience of grief and what is happening to them. Or if it’s happened to someone close to you, it’s hard to know how help those who are grieving.
What to expect when you’re grieving
A common feeling that can be frightening for people to feel as if they’re going crazy. This is a symptom that is completely normal. While people all experience grief in unique and different ways, other normal reactions are as follows:
Feelings: sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning, emancipation, relief, remorse, numbness.
Thoughts: disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence of the deceased, hallucinations of the deceased.
Behaviours: sleep disturbances, absentminded behaviour, social withdrawal, dreams of your loved one, avoiding reminders of your loved one, sighing, searching and calling out, restless overactivity, crying, visiting places or carrying objects that are reminders of your loved one, treasuring objects that belonged to them.
Physical sensations: hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the chest, tightness in the throat, oversensitivity to noise, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, breathlessness, shortness of breath, depersonalisation (nothings seem real).
Another factor that will impact on grief is the relationship you had with the person who died.
How close were you to the person who died?
The type of relationship you have with the person who died will have an impact on how grief is experienced. Things to consider include:
- How close you were
- What role they played in your life
- Positive feelings as well as negative ones you feel towards the person who died
- Conflicts you had with the person
- How dependent you were on the relationship
How did the person die?
Another factor which impacts on how someone grieves is to consider the way in which they died. This may be:
- How physically close you were to the person who died
- The suddenness of the death
- If the death was expected
- A violent or traumatic death
- Multiple losses at once
- A preventable death
- Ambiguous deaths (usually associated with missing persons)
- Stigmatised deaths (people who have died in way that society stigmatised e.g.: a drug overdose or suicide)
When to seek professional assistance
Grief and depression can look very similar. While grieving, feelings and behaviours resemble that of people who are depressed. However, the key difference and one to look out for, is, if you feel a drop in self-esteem or self-worth. This is the time to seek professional assistance.
When will it end?
The bad news is that grieving is a messy process that follows no exact set path. There are though, usual cycles that people go through which include:
Phase 1: Accepting the reality of the loss
Phase 2: To work through the pain of grief
Phase 3: To adjust to an environment without your loved one
Phase 4: Shifting your focus away from your loved one and moving on in life
No one can tell you how long this will take or the order in which it will occur. Having patience with yourself or those who are grieving is a vital part of recovering from this type of pain.
What to do when someone is grieving
Being supportive to those who are grieving is not just about trying to cheer someone up. Practical and sensitive assistance is necessary when people are going through grief. Things like helping the household to continue to run, such as having food in the cupboard, and having the washing and cleaning done can be really helpful when someone doesn’t have the energy to do it. Going together to an important appointment that might be difficult if alone can be helpful.
Allowing someone to express their grief without being judged is also really important, because the process of grieving is necessary for the continuation of good mental health. Being with someone and listening to them is all they may need, making your presence alone a comforting act.
What not to do when someone is grieving
It’s really important that no major decisions are made when in the midst of grief as decisions are usually made from emotions rather than being well thought out.
The most important thing while grieving is not to expect too much of yourself or from those who have just lost someone. Their life has changed forever and it takes time to make major adjustments that have a lasting effect.
Reference: Worden, J.W. (2004) Grief counselling and grief therapy, a handbook for the mental health practitioner (3rd ed.). New York: USA: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group