When you lose someone that is important to you, life changes. You get hit with a roller coaster of emotions.
The idea that people need to “get over” or “move on” from a loss is far from helpful. There is no “right” way to grieve, but there is a more helpful one.
You’ve lost a loved one, now what?
You may be in shock, feel empty, numb and like you're no longer living in the real world. You may feel anger towards the world, others or yourself for not having done “enough”. You may become overwhelmed with sadness or feelings of guilt. Your mind may keep spinning about how this could've happened and where things went wrong. It is totally normal to experience all of these distressing emotions.
You might swing back and forth between all of these feelings. There may also be a level of acceptance in the background which you might actively squash because that would mean your loved one is really gone. As awful as you’re feeling, it’s perfectly human.
Things that complicate grief
When you first receive the news that a loved one has died, most people won’t believe it, or will actively deny it. That’s our brain’s way of trying to protect our sense of reality.
What can happen is that people may actively avoid thinking about their loved one or will frantically do things as if they never left. This coping mechanism can complicate grief in the long-term as it prolongs our denial of the loss.
At other times, the feelings of anger and confusion may become so overwhelming that an explosion/implosion may occur. Lashing out at those around you in anger just leaves you feeling worse later and having to repair that relationship. Destroying something means you have to clean it up later and there may be financial/practical implications. Hurting yourself means that there's a constant reminder of the grief while you're recovering.
When feelings of depression and sadness build up, it may seem like you're crying all the time. Bursting out crying at work may create problems if you don’t have an understanding boss. This might create stress about job security which you now have to deal with on top of your grief.
Withdrawing from important relationships for extended periods may leave you feeling even more alone and isolated. Although friends and family may initially be understanding, they can sometimes stop reaching out which makes it seem harder to reconnect.
Blaming yourself for not having seen the signs, or not having done more leaves you feeling unmotivated, depressed, and demoralised.
You can’t control the grief, but you can decide what to do with it
Being gentle and understanding of yourself for the first 3-6 months (once everything has been finalised) is key. You wouldn’t put down a friend for struggling with a loss, so try not to do it to yourself.
Release the tension that builds up
Allow yourself to release the emotions you feel in the right time and place. You’re at home? Go ahead and cry as much as you want. Watch a sad movie, go through old photos, and let the floodgates open.
Although this may not always be feasible, try and take a few moments during the work day to give yourself the time and space to feel what you're feeling. If you get triggered at work (and you probably will), excuse yourself, go outside or to the bathroom, have a cry, reset, and come back out. If you need to take some time off, please do. Sometimes taking time off work may not be financially possible so just try your best to have adequate breaks during the day.
If you’re angry let it out in ways that don't hurt yourself or others. Dealing with the regret of verbal or physical aggression often leaves you feeling worse afterwards. Instead, try screaming into or punching a pillow, throw a ball hard at a brick wall or shred paper by hand. There are a number of physical anger releases you can try that don't have long-term negative consequences. Once you let out that physical tension your body becomes exhausted and you can get some relief from that feeling.
When your brain won’t switch off and keeps going around and around looking for answers. Write it all down. Your logical brain will be much better at processing all of the thoughts whirling around your mind.
Reimagining our grief
The emotions we feel tell us we loved and cared for the person. What we do with these feelings will either help or hinder our future selves.
Do what you can with what you have at the time. And remember to be kind to yourself.
Acceptance will come with time, as we start to remember the good memories of our loved ones, which will forever stay in our hearts.
If you need urgent assistance, please contact your doctor, or emergency hotline.
If you are in Australia, please contact the following 24/7 services if required:
Ambulance, Police, Fire 000
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636