Grief is a measure of our love and dependence and is the price that we pay for loving. It is mainly a reaction to loss, or anticipated loss, but it also includes our distress on behalf of the person who has died or who is dying. One of the things that we all need at such a time is a deeper understanding of both these parts of the grief reaction. For with understanding will come some relief.
For most of us, bereavement will be the most distressing experience we will ever face. Grief is what we feel when somebody we are close to dies. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no 'normal' or 'right' way to grieve.
You may feel a number of things immediately after a death.
Shock: It may take you a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make you numb, and some people at first carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone important is not coming back. Many people feel disorientated - as if they have lost their place and purpose in life or are living in a different world.
Pain: Feelings of pain and distress following bereavement can be overwhelming and very frightening.
Anger: Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely natural emotion, typical of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together. We may also feel angry towards the person who has died, or angry at ourselves for things we did or didn’t do or say to the person before their death.
Guilt: Guilt is another common reaction. People who have been bereaved of someone close often say they feel directly or indirectly to blame for the person’s death. You may also feel guilt if you had a difficult or confusing relationship with the person who has died, or if you feel you didn’t do enough to help them when they were alive.
Depression: Many bereaved people experience feelings of depression following the death of someone close. Life can feel like it no longer holds any meaning and some people say they too want to die.
Longing: Thinking you are hearing or seeing someone who has died is a common experience and can happen when you least expect it. You may find that you can't stop thinking about the events leading up to the death. "Seeing" the person who has died and hearing their voice can happen because the brain is trying to process the death and acknowledge the finality of it.
Other people's reactions: One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. Because they don't know what to say or are worried about saying the wrong thing, people can avoid those who have lost someone. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people's memories of the person who has died fade
No one can tell you how or when the intensity of your grief will lessen; only you will know when this happens. It is not unusual for bereaved people to think they are finally moving towards acceptance only to experience the strong and often unwelcome emotions they experienced shortly after the death.
Life will never be the same again after a bereavement, but the grief and pain should lessen. There should come a time when you are able to adapt and adjust and cope with life without the person who has died. The pain of bereavement has been compared to that of losing a limb. We may adapt to life without the limb but we continue to feel its absence. When a person we are close to dies we can find meaning in life again, but without forgetting their meaning for us
Many people worry that they will forget the person who has died; how they looked, their voice, or the good times they had together.
Bereavement therapy, whether it be one-on-one with a private therapist or in a group setting, aims to help an individual explore his or her emotions. At the first meeting, the bereaved will likely be asked about his or her loss, about his or her relationship to the deceased, and about his or her own life now that (s)he has lost a loved one. Answering these questions often means tapping into sadness or anger, so emotional outbursts should not be censored. Crying and yelling may come naturally during bereavement therapy and certainly will not offend the therapist.
Allowing an individual to explore his or her emotions without guilt or censure is often what appeals most about bereavement therapy. In group settings such outbursts will not be surprising, though obviously the time spent with each group member will be more limited than in a one-to-one session. However, any emotional outbursts aimed at the therapist or other group members should not be tolerated and in fact there may be recognised rules against such situations. The length of time for which bereavement therapy will continue will most likely be decided between the therapist and the bereaved, and will likely be discussed as therapy progresses.
Until you're in this situation, there's no way to tell how you will cope when a loved one dies. It's the hardest of times, but talking about it with others and sharing what's on your mind will always help.