The shock of loss
Hearing the traumatic news of a death usually throws you into a state of shock and disbelief as you try to defy reality and pretend it hasn't happened.
The sheer intensity of your feelings, the utter despair at the loss, and sometimes the intolerable physical pain you may suffer, all lead to a sense of numbness.
The death of someone close can be a devastating experience you'll ever have.
But the death of your child turns your world completely upside down.
To watch someone to whom you gave life, who's an extension of yourself, lying dead while you're still alive, challenges the natural order of things.
The loss is absolute. Parents are left making sense out of nonsense.
Children should grieve the loss of parents, not the other way round. It's normal to grieve and everyone expresses their grief in their own unique way. There are no rules and no right or wrong ways for accepting this.
For parents, the frightening intensity and rawness of emotions they experience can make them feel like screaming at the cruelty of the world.
You may find yourself shutting down' and blocking everything out through fear of being overwhelmed with grief.
Periods of adjustment
Bereavement literally means being robbed and deprived of hope. As the reality of your loss sinks in, you may feel anger, hatred - and guilt. Someone must be to blame and it's all too easy to wrongly blame yourself.
Guilt and anger
Sometimes not only affect the bereaved, but those closest to them too. Losing a child can strain even the strongest partnerships. Sometimes a grieving parent will shut itself out, adding to his or her feelings of isolation.
Also if you lose a child from a previous marriage, it may seem as if the only person who can possibly understand the loss and share your grief ,would be the ex partner.
This can be very confusing and cause great pain in current relationships.
Even after the rawness of the feelings fades, you may undergo long periods of adjustment, not all of which are clearly understood. If you catch yourself having too much fun,or even feeling that life is starting to be bearable again, this can turn to guilt, or renewed grief that your child is no longer there to share it.
Basic day-to-day existence - let alone meeting everyone's expectations as a friend, family member or professional in a stressful workplace - uses enormous amounts of energy.
How many friends, relatives and co-workers will be able to cope with the continuing exhaustion, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, depression, self-pity and apparently irrational behaviour at times such as anniversaries?
There's no time limit on grief and you may continue to feel bereaved at every stage of the life your child would've enjoyed had they lived: at their graduation,at their wedding, for your absent grandchildren. Nobody fully recovers from the death of a child: they adjust to it as best as they can.
It's not unusual at times to feel that you're going mad through the intensity of your grieving.
Friends and colleagues can help by letting you talk about it at your
own pace for as long as it takes, by simply being there and acknowledging your feelings - and by not being shocked by them.
Sometimes you might want to seek extra support and express your pain without hurting those close to you.
Organisations that can help or refer you on to appropriate support include:
'Grief' is the word we use to describe the feelings and reactions that we have when we lose someone we care about or something we value.
Grief affects everyone: it is the universal reaction to loss. It is painful and stressful, but also natural, normal and necessary.
This leaflet will focus on the feelings and reactions we are most likely to experience after a death, but feelings of grief and some of the reactions we go onto describe also affect people at the end of an important relationship, or following some other major loss.
Thoughts and Feelings
There are no right or wrong reactions to death. We all need to grieve in our own way and in
our own time.
For some this might mean crying, for others not.
For some this is likely to take months and years, for others not. Reactions and feelings can change from hour to hour, and day to day. Some days are good while others are bad; some days you'll be up and others down again.
Over time the emotional swings will lessen in intensity as you learn to adapt to yourchanged circumstances, but to begin with it can be hard.
The following is a summary of the most common feelings
Shock and disbelief.
It can take quite some time for news of the death to sink in.
You don't want to believe it - who would? You can't believe it, not at first.
You've lost so much - the person, their love, their friendship, their companionship,intimacy, opportunities, hopes.,and accompanying the loss can be a deep sense of sadness.
Guilt and Regret.
Maybe you regret having said that hurtful thing or not visiting the previous week as you'd promised. You feel bad for feeling angry.
Some will feel "survivor guilt" - to be alive when another is dead. If the death was suicide,feelings of regret and guilt will probably be heightened.
You might also feel shame or blame yourself. Injustice. Why did s/he have to die so young? Why did this have to happen to me? It's not fair!
You might feel angry with the world or with people for: -
causing the death:-
not being able to cure the illness
not understanding your feelings
making thoughtless remarks
carrying on with life and having fun.
You might feel angry with yourself too, for what you did or did not do.
But perhaps most difficult of all, you might feel angry with the dead person for dying and abandoning you and for the pain you are suffering as a result of their death.
Grieving can be a lonely process. You may feel that no-one can possibly understand what you are going through or that no-one cares. And you might have just lost someone who played a big part in your life.
Feeling low is a natural part of the mourning process. For a time you could lose interest in life and feel that there's no point in going on.
At worst you might feel despair.
You might feel relieved, especially if the death follows a long illness or if the person's life has been reduced to a shadow of what it once was e.g. through advanced old age.
And finally you might feel as if these reactions will go on forever,
which of course they won't.
You might wish to avoid such difficult feelings, but for the process of healing to occur (and it will, given half a chance!) the pain of grief has to be experienced and expressed.
Effect on Behaviour
Grief also affects our behaviour and functioning.
You may find it affects you in some or all of the following ways:
You may find that you can't get to sleep, or can't stay asleep, or that you wake early.
Loss of appetite.
You might not feel like eating, or you may feel sick when you do.
You may find it hard to relax and 'switch off'. Your mind goes into overdrive trying to make senseof what has happened, especially when you are alone or in bed at night.
Grief is stressful, and if you are also not sleeping or eating well, you are bound to feel tired and worn down.
You might be so preoccupied with thoughts of the dead person that you imagine seeing or hearing her/him.
(You are not going mad - this is quite common!)
Anxiety and panic.
With so many powerful and unfamiliar feelings aroused, you might become anxious - that you're going crazy (which you're not) or that something terrible might happen. Inability to cope. You might find it difficult to cope with ordinary, everyday things like shopping, cooking, your work.
Loss of interest.
Things that were once a source of great pleasure to you now feel meaningless and
tiresome. irritable. You might find yourself 'snapping' even if you are not the sort of
person who normally reacts in this way.
You might cry a lot; in fact, sometimes it's all you can do.
Crying can bring relief as it is an outlet for the emotions, tension and strain that have built up.
Other physical symptoms. Palpitations, nausea, dizziness, tightness in the throat and digestive problems - all can be experienced during grieving. If you are concerned, consult your doctor
These are all normal and understandable reactions to bereavement and a natural
part of the mourning process. Given time, support and understanding they will lessen and eventually disappear.
Ways of Coping
Most of us have within ourselves greater reserves of strength than we are aware of.
Mostly we don't need to call upon them, but when we are grieving we do. There may be times when you feel that it is all too much and that you can't cope - but with the help of friends and these inner resources you will.
The following can also help:
Ask for help. It's not always easy and it takes courage. Start by accepting that you need help.
Ask someone you feel you can trust - a friend, a tutor, a college nurse or chaplain, a parent.
It may make sense to seek counselling - many people get help following a bereavement.
Talk about it - "get it off your chest". It brings relief and helps you clarify and understand what has been going round and round in your head.
It also helps counteract feelings of isolation. Again choose someone you feel you can trust.Even talk to a favourite pet. And, if you are a believer, talk to God.
Express yourself in some other way. If you don't feel like talking, see whether you can write
about your feelings and experience.
Choose a form you feel comfortable with - a diary, letter, prose, poetry, song...
If you can't find the words to describe what you're feelingtry "speaking" about your experience through dance, song, painting, clay modelling...
Let shape, form, texture, colour, rhythm be your words.
Keep some mementos - some photos or jewellery, a piece of clothing, anything that helps you to remember the person who has died.
Remembering can be painful to begin with, but over time painful memories will be replaced by ones that can give you pleasure and comfort.
Get some exercise. This might be the last thing you feel like doing, but it will help.
Exercise uses up excess energy and it's also a way of expressing some of the frustration and aggression you might be feeling.
Listen to music. Many people find music has the power to get through to us in a way that nothing else can. Choose music to suit your mood.
At other times you may need to take your mind off the bereavement.
Use music to help you escape for a time.
Take care of yourself. You may feel you can't be bothered or that there's no point, helps.
Eat well, bath or shower regularly and get the sleep and rest that you need. Some people attempt to block out their feelings using alcohol or drugs - but these only bring short-term relief and merely serve to postpone the process of grieving.
Trust yourself. Within reason, follow your feelings and reactions. If you want to be alone, or to go out and be with people, then do that.
Remind yourself often that 'it is normal to feel the way I do' following a bereavement.
Acceptance allows your feelings to be expressed and understood - an important part of the healing process.
Go easy on yourself. Don't expect too much of yourself too soon - grieving takes time.
Take each moment or hour as it comes. there is no time limit on grief
Concentrate on living through the present and don't worry too much about tomorrow or next week.
Give yourself credit for surviving each day.
After the initial shock most people begin,slowly, to adjust to living without the person who has died.
The time it takes to adjust is different for each person. The change is usually gradual, but over time you will feel less and less overwhelmed and preoccupied by the loss.
To begin with you may think about what happened and about the person who has died almost constantly,but in time you will begin to 'forget' - at first just for a few minutes, then for hours and eventually for days at a time.
This is not a betrayal and it does not mean that you love them any less. It is perfectly natural to not think about someone - we do it all the time with our living friends and family.
People, living or dead, do not cease to exist for you when you stop thinking about them.
You will always have your memories and the times you spent with them. Nothing can take that away from you.
In time you will be able to give your attention to others and begin to get on with the rest of your life.
The goal of the grieving process is to learn to live with loss. As you grieve, life will slowly begin to feel meaningful and enjoyable once more.
There will be times, though, when you are taken by surprise - a piece of music or a placemay remind you of the person who has died and you will find yourself flooded by grief all over again. This, too, will lessen in time.
Special days or anniversaries, especially the first one or two after the death, can be difficult.
Some people find it helpful to plan for these anniversaries and to mark them in some quite
You will probably be changed by the experience of grieving. You might find yourself
reassessing your priorities, values, beliefs, hopes, aspirations, friendships.
You could also find that you are:
more aware of your and others' difficulties and needs.
more understanding than before.
more able to live with the often unanswerable question "why?"
better able to cope with life's knocks, especially losses of all kinds.
When to seek additional help.
If you are alarmed by your physical symptoms- consult a college nurse or your GP.
If your work is affected speak to your superior
You need them to be understanding at a time like this. It is quite possible that you won't be capable of working effectively for a time following a bereavement.
Adjustments may need to be implemented
If sleep disturbance persists, if your appetite or interests don't begin to return to normal, speak to a college nurse, your doctor or see a counsellor.
You may have become depressed and they can help.
If you feel overwhelmed by your feelings, particularly if you continue to feel hopeless and despairing and especially if you start to feel suicidal - contact the counselling service.
An appointment can be made for you to see a counsellor quickly.
Talking to a counsellor can help you find your way through the painful and otherwise lonely process of grieving.