When people grieve they are coming to terms with what has changed in their lives. At the same time, they are beginning to find new ways of going about their lives to cope with the sense of emptiness that the loss may have created.
Here at Nelson Hospice, we provide one on one and group support to accompany those finding their way through grief and loss. If you are interested in this kind of support, or know someone who is, please fill out the referral form by clicking this link.
When people grieve they are coming to terms with what has changed in their lives. At the same time, they are beginning to find new ways of going about their lives to cope with the sense of emptiness that the loss may have created. This takes time and is affected by things such as the significance and manner of the loss and what kind of previous experiences the person has already had. It is not unusual for grief to be felt over an extended period of time, even up to several years.
The body’s response
Although each person grieves in his or her own way, following a loss, the person generally feels stunned or distressed with shock. The human body releases chemicals, such as adrenalin, in response to shock. These are to help with thinking, alertness and coping with pain. The person may have physical reactions such as sleeplessness, difficulty in sitting still or concentrating, loss of appetite, stomach upset, or even chest pains (which should be checked by a doctor). Often people can feel numb or as though they are on “automatic pilot”. They may do normal activities but not feel connected to the real world. Involving oneself with physical activity may be helpful.
Thoughts and feelings
People who are grieving experience a whole range of thoughts and feelings that can feel all mixed up and may even oppose one another, for example, relief, guilt, laughter, anguish, and anger. This storm of emotion comes and goes over time and varies with individuals as they are confronted with reminders of what they have lost. Loss of self-esteem and confidence are common. Others may feel like they are going “crazy”, as if everything is out of control. Talking about grief, sharing one’s feelings, and/or creating a ritual to honour the loss can reduce the sense of isolation.
In the beginning, most people are in a state of disbelief. Seeing the body and having a funeral or a memorial can play a significant part in the lessening of the shock. The fact that people often cannot believe that the death has really occurred can be useful in protecting them from being overwhelmed by such a huge change in their lives.
Three to four months after the death
This may be a particularly difficult and challenging time. Society’s expectations are that bereaved people should be over their grief by now and “back to normal”. But often this is when the reality of the death is truly sinking in. The chemicals which support the body after a severe stress are starting to wear off, and the support of friends begins to wane. Bereaved people often go through a very painful time emotionally when there is the least support.
Many people may find they automatically expect things from the past to go on, and they may struggle to keep some of these things going for a while. Gradually people begin to face the gaps, the emptiness, the loss in their daily lives and begin to relate to what their life has become. They start to create a new life for themselves while continuing to mourn what they have lost. Usually, this part of the journey takes alot of effort, emotion and energy. Sometimes the bereaved do not look after themselves and they may have little energy to reach out for what they need. Compassionate listening and practical help may be useful.
Most people start to recognize they are having more frequent and longer times when they feel more energy and hope. They often recognize they have successfully survived a difficult time in their life and feel stronger. They may notice their memories are not as painful for as long. The length of time it takes to make this adjustment varies, beginning in the early weeks and perhaps lasting up to several years.
Child and Teen Grief
Communication about death, as with all communication, is easier when a child or a teen feels that they have our permission to talk about the subject and believes we are sincerely interested in their views and questions. Encourage them to communicate by listening attentively, respecting their views, and answering their questions honestly.
Every child is an individual. Communication about death depends on the age and their own experiences. If they are very young, they may view death as temporary, and they may be more concerned about separation from loved ones than about death itself.
It is not always easy to “hear” what a child is really asking. Sometimes it may be necessary to respond to a question with a question in order to fully understand the child’s concern.
A very young child can absorb only limited amounts of information. Answers need to be brief, simple and repeated when necessary.
A child often feels guilty and angry when they lose a close family member. They need reassurance that they have been, and will continue to be loved and cared for.
A child may need to mourn a deeply felt loss on and off until they are in their adolescence. They need support and understanding through this grief process and permission to show their feelings openly and freely.
Whether a child should visit the dying or attend a funeral depends on their age and ability to understand the situation, the relationship with the dying or dead person, and, most important, whether the child wishes it. A child should never be coerced or made to feel guilty if they prefer not to be involved. If they are permitted to visit a dying person or attend a funeral, they should be prepared in advance for what they will hear and see.
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Nelson & District Hospice Society works closely with healthcare providers, counsellors, therapists, clergy, and pharmacists to provide compassionate care and support for the dying and the bereaved in our communities.