For many, thoughts regarding death and dying are not at the forefront of our consciousness. This can change dramatically, however, when someone in our life passes. The nature of the person’s passing, how close we were to them, and our own unique way of processing death all play factors in our reaction to a loss. When a loss is untimely, we may feel overcome with questions: Why did this happen? Could I have done something to keep this from happening? Why them and not me? It is this space of unknowing that can make the process of healing more painful.
The most common question regarding grief after suffering a loss is: is this reaction normal?
More than likely, the answer is yes. It is common for people to experience feelings of shock, as though the news of the passing were unreal, sensations of sadness, anger, guilt, or regret. When experiencing grief, people may feel emotionally unstable or as though they are “going crazy.” Grief is a very normal part of the human experience and can be very painful to endure. Finding support and knowing how to care for yourself is crucial. Without tending to your needs adequately, your grief process may become more complicated. It is important to establish healthy ways of coping rather than more harmful options like self-medication, denial, or avoidance. Use this guide and additional resources to assist you in this process. If you have been trying to manage your grief but find that grief is still troubling you to the point where you are unable to function or complete your daily activities, you may benefit from counseling.
If you are a student at SHSU, you can seek services on campus at the Counseling Center, Jack Staggs Clinic, or Psychological Services Center. If you have health insurance, you can contact your provider and find practitioners in your area that can assist you (private practice directory - not all-inclusive, contact insurance for more options). If you develop thoughts of committing suicide and no are no longer able to keep yourself safe, call 911 immediately.
You may hear that grief is different for everyone.
It can feel like little solace when we hear that everyone’s grief is different and that healing time can vary greatly, but the truth is we all cope differently. What’s important is to recognize your grief and learn how to tend to your needs during this difficult time.
You can help tend to your grief by engaging in the following:
- Identify your feelings and triggers. Stimuli that remind us of the person or event can trigger memories and feelings of grief. For example, you may find that you are triggered by a TV show where a character passes away, a song that reminds you of them, or driving through an area of town that you would frequent together. When we are feeling triggered we may feel acute sadness, tearfulness, and even develop somatic symptoms such as tension or pain in the body. This is normal. If you know you are going to be entering a space that is triggering for you, begin to prepare yourself emotionally by recognizing that you may begin to experience some grief and take some deep healing breaths. It is perfectly OK to give yourself more time before going to a place that is triggering for you or have someone with you for additional support. People often refer to grief as coming in waves. You may feel a strong wave come when you are triggered, but the feeling will normally lessen following the wave. It is very important to be attuned to what you are feeling. While waves of grief can feel more obvious, underlying sensations of grief can manifest as a general irritation, anger, or feeling blue. The more attune we are to what we are feeling, the better we are able to cope.
- Identify why you are feeling this way. Now that you have identified triggers and what you are feeling, you can take a more introspective approach: why am I feeling what I am feeling? The pain of loss can serve as a representation of the magnitude with which we cared for someone. The inevitability of loss can be hard to come to grips with. When it happens we may feel a sensation of powerlessness and yearning. Attributing meaning to the feelings of grief can help shift feelings of pain to a bittersweetness of having loved, making it more manageable. The emotional reaction after losing someone can be further complicated, however. In addition to the grief of losing someone you cared about, it is very common to feel guilty or remorseful. The “I should have” and “I could have” can quickly take over. Feelings of survivor’s guilt can also manifest. While to the outsider it can seem very clear: you shouldn’t carry this guilt; to the survivor, the sense of responsibility can take a firm grip that is hard to shake. Wherever your pain is coming from, it is important to identify why you are feeling what you’re feeling. The answer may guide you to move into the direction of forgiveness, acceptance, or otherwise for healing.
- Process and get support. Allow yourself time in your healing. The intensity and length of grief varies. See what you can do to tend to your needs. For some, taking time to write a letter to the person that passed away can be powerful. Some may prefer to write a letter and then read it aloud. Perhaps at the site where they lay to rest, a place in nature, or wherever feels appropriate and meaningful. Find your way to process the loss and explore options of how you can pay your respects (for more examples on how to process grief see the resources below). How might you be able to pay tribute to that person? Maybe it’s in living your life more intentionally. Perhaps that person left you with a greater understanding of what is important in life. See what you can do to honor them by living that out. It may also feel comforting to you and others who have been affected by the loss by offering support for one another. For example, if a friend of yours passes away, it can be comforting to help support their family by sharing a card or bringing over food. Cultivating love and care during a time of sadness can be very healing for all involved.
- Get support from friends and family. You may find that sometimes people do not know what to say or how to inquire about how you are doing. Remember that silence does not mean your support system doesn’t care. They just may not know how to go about helping you. During a time when it feels like nothing can be done, just having a listening ear or a hug can be very comforting. If you are needing more support than you are getting, think about communicating your feelings and needs with others so that they can better support you. Caring for your grief may include exploration into your spirituality. Nourishing your spirit through your faith can prove to be extremely helpful.
Take some time to review the resources below for additional information and tips on how you can take care of yourself during this difficult time. A link on grief is also provided for Spanish speakers. (Si hablas español, puedes encontrar más información sobre el dolor aquí). Do not forget that help is always near when you need it.
Recommended readings:Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman
When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Harold S. Kushner
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (passing of partner)
Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Click here for a Grief resource for Spanish speakers (Si hablas español, puedes encontrar más información sobre el dolor aquí).
Sam Houston Counseling Center
Box 2059 | Huntsville, TX 77341-2059 | Phone: 936.294.1720 | Fax: 936.294.2639