When someone you love dies, the grief you experience can feel devastating. This grief is often a reflection of the love you felt for them and their loss from your life—now and into the future. It is evidence of a deep and meaningful connection, no matter how long your loved one was part of your life. You may also feel grief with other losses such as the death of a pet, the breakdown of a relationship, the collapse of a dream or a negative change in circumstance.
Whether predictable and anticipated, or sudden and unexpected, each person’s experience of loss is unique. Grieving is not a sign of weakness or poor coping skills. It is a natural and healthy part of the healing process to adjust to your loss.
How does grief feel?
Emotions may come in waves or bursts, as our bodies attempt to process the enormity of our loss. Shock, anger, anxiety, emptiness, confusion, exhaustion and profound sadness may all be felt in any order or at the same time. Your world may feel like it has stopped still or been replaced with a surreal parallel universe where plans have been destroyed and the future is no longer defined. The very foundations of what you previously considered safe and what you valued can seem undermined.
We grieve those we felt strongly about, whether they had a positive or negative influence on our lives. When relationships are difficult, this can add complexity to our grief. Some of our prior struggles can intensify or we may become caught up in the ‘what ifs’ and the unfairness of circumstances. Roles and responsibilities are also disrupted presenting additional challenges at a time when we feel least equipped to deal with them.
How long does grief last?
Some think of the grieving process as a singular journey decreasing in intensity before disappearing. Some believe their grief needs to remain intense as proof of their love. Grief often has its own timeframe. It will ebb and flow. Subside and return. Be intensified or reignited by anniversary dates or other reminders.
Just because society may be impatient with grief, it doesn’t mean you need to be. Our minds can get in the way and add further suffering when we try to analyse our grief and our progress through it.
Can a psychologist help?
There is no doubt that grief is hard work. Our reactions can cross physical, mental, emotional and spiritual domains, and grief can feel very isolating. Having someone who is there just for you, being an understanding and patient witness to your grief, may make all the difference.
A psychologist can also assist in very specific ways: helping you to regain your body’s equilibrium, making sense of your feelings, preparing for ongoing triggers to your grief, supporting you to slowly resume your engagement with the outside world, assisting you to make important decisions, encouraging you through challenges, and guiding you toward a life with purpose that ultimately honours you and your loved one.
Wendy Roncolato & Prue Foster