Someone whom you love has died, or is dying, and you feel sadness. You may be asking, “Why do I hurt so much?” If you can take a moment, I would like to talk with you about the hurt and sadness that you are experiencing.
Everybody at one time or another feels grief because of the death of a loved one. This deep hurt is only possible when someone we are close to dies. We rely on each other. We spend many years dependent on our parents, other adults and children. We have families. We make friends. We have neighbors.
It is a part of our makeup to form lasting bonds of caring and affection with other people. We fall in love and long for the love of another person. If we lived our lives separately from other people, and did not need to rely on others, the loss or death of another would have little impact.
Because we form deep attachments, we are vulnerable.
Because we depend on other people, because they matter to us, they become a part of us and cannot be replaced. When someone is gone from our lives, someone with whom we have a heart attachment, a piece of us has been torn away. The loss wounds us deeply. This wound is called “grief.”
The grief wound can be healed, but it will take time.
Grieving is the way we heal from this wound. Through the process of mourning, the outward expression of inner grief, we gradually accept the loss and heal. At the end of mourning, there is still a feeling of sadness, but it is not the deep hurt we have felt before. With the sadness, we still have happy memories of our loved one who has died.
There are no hard and fast rules for how people grieve.
Grief may be more intense and more prolonged the more you relied on, or were bonded to, the person or pet that died. Also some deaths tend to be more difficult: the loss of a child, death from a suicide, or an unexpected death, to name a few.
I would like to share with you what happens to our bodies, to our hearts, and to our lives when we experience grief. Before I talk about these changes, I want you to know that they are absolutely normal. There is nothing wrong with anyone who experiences these reactions. However, each person’s response to grief is unique. Therefore you may or may not experience some or all of these changes.
There are physical changes such as:
- You may feel tired more easily.
- You may experience loss of energy and even numbness.
- You may not sleep well.
- You may sleep a lot.
- You may be restless and find it hard to sit still.
- Your grief may take more energy than you would have ever imagined.
There are emotional changes:
- You may experience loneliness.
- You may feel anxious or worried.
- You may feel abandoned.
- You may feel guilt and regret because you wonder if you did enough for your loved one.
- After a prolonged and difficult illness, you may even feel the normal reaction of being relieved.
- You may feel that nothing matters like it did before.
- Many people, when they first experience grief, feel shock or numbness.
- Often those in grief become frightened because they may be faced with a change in companionship, home, job, or financial support.
- Your loss may bring up old issues, feelings and unresolved conflicts from the past.
- You may experience feelings of grief that occur suddenly with no warning.
There are mental changes.
- People who experience grief often become forgetful and have difficulty concentrating.
- Some become confused and struggle to complete previously simple tasks.
- There may be a lack of interest in daily affairs.
- Questioning the meaning and purpose of life is another possible reaction.
- Your grief may take longer than you think.
- You may have some identity confusion as a result of the death of your loved one, i.e. “Who am I now?”
There are other changes:
- At times a person may expect a loved one to call, or they may be sensing the loved one’s presence, seeing her, or hearing his voice.
- Because of the very personal and tender nature of grieving, a person may want to isolate and withdraw socially.
- Your grief may involve many changes over time.
- Your grief may show itself in all parts of your life: psychological, social, emotional, and physical.
- You may grieve for many things, not just the death alone, e.g. the future, changes, finances, your home.
- You may grieve over what you have lost already and what you have lost for the future.
- You may grieve for all of the hopes, dreams, and unfulfilled expectations you had with that person.
- Society will have unrealistic expectations about your grieving and respond inappropriately to you.
- You can achieve a sustained and loving relationship with a person who has died.
Why must I grieve? Won’t the hurt go away after time passes?
Healing wounds of the heart is different from healing physical wounds. Given time, most physical wounds will heal by themselves because the physical body usually heals over time. Hurt that results from the loss of someone we love can only truly be healed through active grieving.
It is true that we can cover over grief through drugs, alcohol, activities, another relationship, or just by mentally pretending that we feel okay. The problem is the wound still exists inside of us, and will affect our ability to enjoy life fully and to love others.
In our culture, we are not taught the skill of healing the heart, healing emotional wounds. You may discover that it is difficult to find people who are willing to listen to your hurt in a non-judgmental and comforting way.
A simple way to remember what is needed to heal grief is:
“What you can feel, you can heal.”
Provided by Gerard’s House, a grief support center for children, teenagers and their families in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For more information please contact us at (505) 424-1800 or gerardshouse.org.
This article was published in “The Grieving Heart,” written and edited by Bob Dorsett, LLC, www.silentseas.net