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Dealing with Loss

Source: The Australian Funeral Directors Association
and Grieflink

What is grief?

Grief is a NORMAL emotional and physical response when we have experienced a significant loss and/or change in our lives. The death of someone we love results in  emotional responses such as disbelief, anger, guilt, depression and a feeling of emptiness. Physical symptoms can include sleepiness, loss of concentration, feeling detached and numbness.

How long does grief last?

Grief responses are very individual. Each person will react in their own unique way. In the first few months the body releases chemicals, such as adrenalin, in response to shock. This is to help with thinking, alertness, and coping with pain. Three to four months after your loss these chemicals start to wear off, sometimes the support of friends is dropping away, and you may experience a difficult time. Often a birthday, Christmas or the 1st anniversary are especially painful times. It can take several years to adjust to the death of a loved one.

Does it just affect your emotions?

Grief affects us both emotionally and physically. Our thought processes can alter for a time. Being vague and forgetful, fear of going crazy, too much sleep or lack of it is normal. Our bodily systems can change; more infections, coughs, colds, high blood pressure all occur with some grieving people. Visiting your Doctor for a check up is a good idea and looking after your diet, sleep and exercise will help.

What else can help me?

Find a good friend who will listen and let you go over the same information time and again. It can also be helpful to talk to someone outside your family and friends, like your Doctor, a counsellor, a local priest, or a community care worker. Attending a grief support group can help you meet others who have experienced the loss of a loved one. There are websites, libraries and many organisations that offer support. Remember to talk about your loved one. They were and still are an important part of your life.

Is it more difficult to recover from the impact of a sudden death?

A sudden death is different from an expected death. When someone is dying we have the opportunity to deal with ‘unfinished business' and perhaps lessen our regrets of things we wish we had said or done. With sudden unexpected death there has been no opportunity for this and the grieving can be different. It can be most important to spend time with the deceased person i.e. in hospital, at the viewing, to say goodbye.

Is it wrong to have conflicting feelings?

When a loved one has suffered a long drawn out illness, it is common to feel relieved or glad when the person dies. In time you will feel sad at the loss of that person in your life and perhaps experience guilt at your earlier reaction of relief, especially when the death has given you greater personal freedom. Grief is like being on a roller coaster; your emotions can change from day to day or even hour to hour. When grieving, we need to be kind to ourselves and not make judgements on our own behaviour. If you find yourself having a good day, enjoy it, the next day you could feel devastated again.

Does grief affect men and women differently?

It appears that men and women have different grief responses. A typical male reaction can be to not talk about things because this will ‘only cause upset'. Men will often take on the role of ‘protector', ‘leader' and ‘fixer'. Some women can use this method as well. A typical female reaction will be to talk over and over again about the deceased person and the death, often with tears and emotion. These different yet normal reactions can cause strife in the relationship. It can be helpful to acknowledge these differences and, instead of seeking our main support from our partner, find close friends who will also support us.

Do children grieve?

Very young children are aware that someone is missing and need to be involved with the family and the funeral if they so choose. Children aged 4-7 do not always understand the permanency of death and there are books and websites with stories and activities to help them. Older children will often outwardly copy adults in their grieving i.e. crying or not crying, while inwardly having their own grief reactions as individuals. Most children will continue to ask questions and explore their loss well into teenage years. This is a normal part of their grieving process.

What do we tell the children?

Children under the age of three should to be kept in their routine with primary care givers as much as possible. Over that age they need to be told simply and honestly what has happened and what will happen regarding the funeral and ‘viewing', then asked if they would like to be there. They can accept if they choose. Often children will draw a picture, use a photo or a toy to place in the coffin to say goodbye.

What do I say to someone who is grieving?

People who are grieving need to be allowed to express their feelings in a safe environment. They need to know you will not judge or devalue their feelings by using clichés such as ‘at least he didn't suffer'. What you can say to a grieving person is something like ‘I wish I had the words to ease the pain you are going through right now'.

What can I do to help someone who is grieving?

People in grief need acceptance of their emotions for however long it takes for them to heal. Practical items such as shopping, cooked meals, or minding children is very helpful. Often the grieving person is afraid that others are ‘sick of them' and will not ask for help. Telephone the grieving person on a regular basis, with their permission, just to show you care. Allow them to grieve in their own way.

Resource Brochure for support in dealing with loss and grief

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