Here are some suggested ways for coping with the everyday feelings and realities that occur during the time of loss, grief and bereavement.
• Be gentle with your own feeling process. Avoid self-judgment. Do not say “I should have”.
• Find a supportive person or persons you can trust. Share your honest feelings. Give yourself time for healing. The timing of grief cannot be rushed. Plan your time so that you have specific time to focus on your loss and special time to escape from the pain of the reality of what you are facing.
• When you experience fear, anger, helplessness, sorrow, pain, emptiness, isolation, depression, and relief – it can be very confusing. Questions to ask yourself which help you to focus are: How do I feel right now? (Check body sensations, thoughts and emotions); What do I need right now? (Focus on immediate, attainable needs) How can I meet (or get a supportive friend to help me meet) these needs right now?
• Try to maintain as regular a schedule as possible. Avoid unrealistic expectations/goals for yourself.
• Maintain an awareness of your body’s need for nutrition and rest. If symptoms arise that are new or unusual, see your physician.
• Listening to your body is critical during this period of time. Listening is different than doing something for your body. Listening means to honor the messages your body is sending you. Words or tears that are unexpressed can cause a lump in our throats. Anger that is held inside can give us an upset stomach, headache, or tight neck and shoulders. Wringing hands, shakiness or queasy stomach can express fear. Guilt or resentment can feel like physical burdens we are carrying (I feel like I weigh a ton). Sorrow or depression can feel like pressure or breaking in our heart or chest area. Breathing may be labored or we may breath great sighs. Often a combination of these feelings is felt. It can be helpful to ask the part of the body that feels these sensations the following questions: If you could talk, what would you say? What picture or symbol best expresses you right now? What do you look like? What is happening right now?
• Writing a letter or drawing a picture of your loss or grief can be a healing way to get your feelings from the inside to the outside. Writing to others whom you feel incomplete with, or writing a letter to yourself, or to an institution, physician, hospital, or even to God, enables you to process what your body longs to say. It also enables you to release anger, frustration, and isolation and move to a forgiving, life-affirming love for yourself and those who have touched your life.
Grief: A Normal Response to Loss
Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one. Reactions from grief can affect the whole person. These reactions may include physical, emotional, psychological and behavioral changes. The most important thing for you to remember is that these reactions are a normal response to loss. You may experience none, some, or all of the following:
Tightness in the chest
Loss of energy
Loss of sexual desire
Feelings of exhaustion
Feelings of confusion
A sense of unreality
Preoccupation with thoughts of your loved one
Dreams of your loved one
A sense of the presence of your loved one
Feelings of helplessness
Feelings of emptiness
Loss of ability to fee pleasure
Withdrawal from relatives and friends
Helping Do's and Don'ts
Do let your genuine concern and caring show.
Don’t let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to a bereaved person.
Do be available...to listen, to run errands, to help with the children, or whatever else seems needed at the time.
Don’t avoid them because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already intolerably painful experience).
Do say you are sorry about their loss and about their pain.
Don’t say you know how they feel (unless you’ve suffered a similar loss you probably don’t know how they feel).
Do allow them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and are willing to share.
Don’t say “you ought to be feeling better by now” or anything else which implies a judgement about their feelings.
Do encourage them to be patient with themselves and not to impose any “shoulds” on themselves.
Don’t tell them what they should feel or do.
Do allow them to talk about the person who has died as much and as often as they want to.
Don’t change the subject when they mention the person who has died.
Do talk about the special, endearing qualities of the person who has died.
Don’t avoid mentioning the name of the person who has died out of fear of reminding them of their pain. (They haven’t forgotten it.)
Do reassure them that they did everything that they could, that the medical care given was the best or whatever else you know to be true and positive about the care given.
Don’t make any comments which in any way suggest that the care given the deceased at home, in the emergency room, hospital, or wherever was inadequate. (Bereaved people are plagued by feelings of doubt and guilt without any help from their family and friends)
How to deal with grief
What is grief?
Grief is the normal response of sorrow, emotion, and confusion that comes from losing someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life. Grief is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss, a move away from family and friends, or loss of good health due to illness.
How does grief feel?
Just after the death or loss, you may feel empty and number, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating.
You may become angry – at a situation, a particular person, or just angry in general. Almost everyone in grief also experiences guilt. Guilt is often expressed as “I could have, I should have, and I wish I would have” statements.
People in grief may have strange dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to return to work. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they will pass.
How long does grief last?
Grief lasts as long as it takes you to accept and learn to live with your loss. For some people, grief lasts a few months. For others, grieving may take years.
The length of time spent grieving is different for each person. There are many reasons for the differences, including personality, health, coping style, culture, family background, and life experiences. The time spent grieving also depend on your relationship with the person lost and how prepared you were for the loss.
How will I know when I am done grieving?
Every person who experiences a death or other loss must complete a four-step grieving process.
The grieving process is over only when a person completes these four steps:
Accept the loss
Work through and feel the physical and emotional pain of grief
Adjust to living in a world without the person or item lost
Move on with life
How does grief differ from depression?
Depression is more than a feeling of grief after losing someone or something you love. Clinical depression is a whole body disorder. It can take over the way you think and feel.
Symptoms of depression include:
A sad, anxious, or “empty” mood that won’t go away
Loss of interest in what you used to enjoy
Low energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
Changes in sleep patterns
Loss of appetite, weight loss, or weight gain.
Steps to Survival
Recognize the Loss: For a while you are numb. It has happened – try not to avoid it.
Be with the Pain: You are hurting. Admit it. To feel pain after loss is normal – proof that you are alive; proof that you are able to respond.
You are not Alone: Loss is part of life. Everyone experiences it.
YOU WILL SURVIVE: Believe that you WILL HEAL.
Give Yourself Time to Heal: The greater the loss – the more time it will take.
Healing has Progressions and Regressions: Healing and growth is not a smooth upward progression, but full of ups and downs – dramatic leaps and depressing backslides.
Tomorrow Will Come: Your life has been full of positive experiences – THEY WILL RETURN.
Take Good Care of You: Get plenty of rest. Stick to a schedule. Plan your days. Activity will give you a sense of order.
Keep Decision-making to a Minimum: Expect your judgment to be clouded for a while. You are going through change; don’t add additional ones.
Seek Comforting: Accept support from others – SEEK IT. It is human and courageous.
Suicide Thoughts: These may arise – they are a symptom of pain. If you feel they are getting out of control, SEEK HELP AT ONCE.
Do Your Mourning Now: Allow yourself to be with your pain – it will pass sooner. Postponed grief can return later to haunt you. Grief feelings WILL be expressed (one way or another).
Be Gentle With Yourself: You have suffered a disabling emotional wound – treat yourself with care.
Let Yourself Heal Completely: Give yourself time. You are a convalescent right now. Don’t jump into new things too quickly.
It is OK to Feel Depressed: Crying is cleansing – a wonderful release. Be with these feelings for awhile.
It is OK to Feel Anger: Everyone acts angry at the loss of love. Channel it wisely, and it will go away as you heal. Hit a pillow. Kick on a bed. Yell and scream when you are alone. Run – Play hard games. Hit a punching bag.
Some myths and facts about grief.
Some Myths and Facts about Grief
Grieving is an individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your relationships, beliefs, and the nature of your loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold. Grief takes its own time.
Grief is a roller coaster, not a series of stages
It is best not to think of grief as a series of stages. Rather we might think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning and the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a resurgence of grief, however different now.
Myths & Facts about Grief
MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
FACT: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
MYTH: It’s important to “be strong” in the face of loss.
FACT: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
FACT: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s NOT the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it, through physical symptoms, distractions, anger or behaviors.
Source: Hospice Foundation of America
Articles by Sheryle
Freedom and Death Sheryle R. Baker, M.A., LMHC
“Freedom is a power within
Expressing Desire to Action.
Not for the Faint-Hearted,
It is a strength that forms and flows from life itself.
Elemental truth without which we remain
in a maze of fear and limitations
Enchained to Death.”
Marvin R. Rubin
When I asked my father to write his thoughts on freedom, he unhesitatingly wrote the above. I chose to elaborate on this theme of freedom as an inner power that only we can imprison by our fears of change and death. To deny death is to impose limitations on our life and our culture, creating “reality” based on short-term vision and immediate gratification which can leave us spiritually bankrupt. The pioneering work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the field of death and dying, and Dr. Raymond Moody with his transformation research in near-death experiences (NDE) have profoundly affected people in confronting their fears of death and increased their hopes for survival of consciousness.
Close encounters with death and NDE may awaken us deeply to our spiritual life purpose and to an appreciation for loving unconditionally. In doing so, we accept the impermanence of all physical life. And in turn, life becomes more precious. This timeless awareness can set us free from the limitations of the past. It can speed up our desires into acts of self-healing and compassionate service for the “greater good” of others and the planet. Empathy, compassion and love form a resonance between living things, making it possible for the mind to transcend the limits of the body, time and space, according to Dr. Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words.
For those of us who have not had such stark awakenings, we can still learn from weathering losses and mini-deaths that force us to let go of who or what we are attached to. Suffering often accompanies loss of relationship, one’s health, or a job or the death of a loved one. Similar to physical death, the ordinary mind disintegrates through this suffering; all that we have identified with ceases to exist. We are alone with our emptiness and this freedom is initially so foreign to us that we resist, trying to cling to the past, out of fear. It is helpful at such times to have what Richard Moss, M.D., author of The Black Butterfly, describes as an “unobstructed relationship” with self or another in which to “embrace the unknowable and pass through the doors of our (individual and collective) aloneness”.
As a psychotherapist working with thousands of people grieving death, I have seen the effects of devastation on the human being. Bodies record the shock. Minds relentlessly churn and rework the past again and again, searching for reason. Hearts cry silently or out loud. Yet, I have also seen the creative power of the spirit within; the natural transformative potential which, like a bud. in winter, awaits patiently to awaken to its purpose, coaxed to life from death. Or it may just as easily come from an impetuous quickening that propels us to radical aliveness bom from our undoing and humility.
Here we realize the freedom inherent in the elemental truths of the universe. From the subatomic world, forms dance in and out of existence, fearlessly. Change is forever creating life from death and vice-versa. Our freedom does not come from outside us. It lies within. It is our soul calling forth a revisioning beyond the personal. It is reverence for what is sacred.
TRAUMATIC LOSS AND EMDR
Sheryle R. Baker, M.A., LMHC
Over the past decade, I have received over approximately 100 hours of professional training and have worked with numerous clients using a therapeutic method called EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing). I have witnessed hundreds of dramatic healing effects on client’s behavior, emotions and changes in perception, related to their trauma as it impacts their lives. However, it was not until I had a life threatening injury, where my neck was broken in a car accident that I really internalized the benefits of the EMDR process. During the first month while I was still in terrible pain and shock, the strongest symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress that I suffered were specific dizziness and swerving motions every time I thought of our Jeep flipping over or while watching Jeep Cherokee commercials on TV. In place of any emotional feelings, these reactions randomly intruded on my daily thoughts and images. Carol Crow, a therapist friend offered to do some EMDR sessions at my home. At the end of the second session I was no longer hovering over or stuck in the images previous to, during, and after the crash. The mental recycling that kept me imprisoned to the scene altered, allowing the stored emotional trauma and sensations to move through my nervous system and be digested. The relief I felt was immeasurable. Yet, the greatest gift of healing was the total absence of the swerving motion when I recalled the accident or saw TV commercials. The changes were dramatic. I could begin to let go of feeling “broken in pieces” and return to my body’s need for inner healing. One year later, I returned to the physical scene of my accident in Utah, and lay to rest the remaining pain that was left inside me and on the earth.
What I’ve described is similar to the kinds of traumatic events that threaten one’s very core and overwhelm ordinary coping defenses, resulting in intense fear, helplessness and loss of control. Trauma is timeless. The event could be recent or years ago. The reactions of PTSD occur in two very different behaviors. In the first response, the person cannot separate or get out of the trauma, reliving the original event through nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and obsessive thinking. In the second, the person cannot allow the event in, instead choosing to avoid, by staying busy, numbing out or substance abuse.
In either case, physical symptoms can include insomnia, panic attacks, heart palpitations and hyperarousal, the tendency to be easily startled by any reminder triggering the trauma, (e.g. the sound of an ambulance siren or other sound, sights, smells, or feelings).
According to Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., originator of the EMDR process, research findings show that when someone is negatively affected by trauma, information is stored in the motoric (body systems) memory, rather than narrative (verbal) memory. The negative emotions and physical sensations of the original event are locked inside the nervous systems, producing intense feedback reactions and symptoms.
EMDR has dramatically helped to accelerate the healing process as it applies to grief, when a person gets stuck in the images, feelings and interpretations about the death or dying scenes, whether real or imagined; sometimes, the survivor was not physically present and had to rely on second hand information regarding their loved one’s death.
As a therapist, I explore with the client their most disturbing images, beliefs, thoughts, sensations and emotions. After this assessment, EMDR protocol is followed. The client is then introduced to the process of bi-lateral stimulation through a variety of ways: eye scanning, auditory sounds, or kinesthetic gentle tapping motions, designed to help move through and release conditioned responses to trauma.