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Grief: what to expect after someone has died
by TeenHelp November 5th 2014, 09:11 PM

Grief: what to expect after someone has died
By Robin (PSY)

Although it can be difficult to find a reliable estimate, many organizations report that 5-20% of youth around the world will experience the death of a significant person before reaching adulthood. Regardless of what life stage a person is in, grief resulting from the death of a significant person can present many challenges. Merriam-Webster defines grief as "deep sadness caused especially by someone's death," but grief encompasses more than feelings of sadness. Grief can consist of many different feelings, including (but not limited to) confusion, loneliness, anger, fear, and guilt. When a person is grieving, they may also experience physical, cognitive, and spiritual changes or disruptions. For example, someone who is grieving may report they're having trouble falling asleep, not as hungry as usual, unable to concentrate on everyday tasks, and/or questioning their religious beliefs.

There are many "models" to describe what happens during the grieving process, two of which will be summarized here. The Kübler-Ross model, otherwise known as the "five stages of grief" (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), was originally intended to describe what a person experiences once they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, also known as "anticipatory grief"; however, this model is widely used by grieving individuals as a way of "tracking" where they are in their grieving process. Worden's model, otherwise known as the "four tasks of mourning," proposes that grieving individuals don't necessary pass through "stages" like the Kübler-Ross model would suggest; instead, individuals may focus on different tasks throughout the grieving process. The four tasks of mourning are:
  1. To accept the reality of the loss
  2. To process the pain of grief
  3. To adjust to a world without the deceased
  4. To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life
These two models imply that everyone who grieves the loss of a significant person can expect to experience certain "stages" or encounter certain "tasks" throughout the grieving process. If someone is currently grieving the loss of a family member, friend, or other significant person, then this article can provide assistance in navigating the challenges that are present throughout the grieving process.

Expect the experience to be unique
Oftentimes, people worry that there's something "wrong" with them because they're not grieving in the same way people around them are grieving. They may think they're "crazy" because they're crying more frequently than the people around them, or they may think they're "bad" for experiencing anger toward the deceased while the people around them express sadness. Some people may find it useful to talk about the deceased, whereas other people may prefer to do "normal" activities with friends and reflect on their grief when alone. Everyone's experience will be unique, and a person may not grieve in the same way for each loss they experience. For example, a person may experience feelings of sadness when a grandparent dies of old age, but they may predominantly experience feelings of anger when a friend commits suicide.While it's important to listen to trustworthy people when they express concerns, it's also important to grieve in a way that is genuine and meaningful to the individual person.

Expect the reality of the loss to take time to "sink in"
When a significant person dies, whether it's anticipated or sudden, people may experience feelings of shock, denial, or numbness. A person may be aware that the deceased has died, but there may be times when they won't be able to fully comprehend the implications of this loss. For example, if the deceased dies when they're young, or if they die suddenly as a result of an accident, suicide, or homicide, it may be difficult to accept the circumstances behind the loss. Many people report that the reality of the loss truly "sinks in" when the deceased isn't present for special occasions for the first time. The grief process does not have a set timeline, and criticizing oneself because they aren't "getting over" the loss will present additional problems.

Expect to feel any combination of emotions
As stated previously, "grief" does not solely consist of feeling sad. A person may feel angry because the deceased is no longer available to provide emotional support. A person may feel guilty for what they said or did to the deceased prior to their death. It's common to be fearful or to feel vulnerable due to life's uncertainties following the death of a significant person. If a person was abused by the deceased, then feelings of relief may be more prevalent than feelings of sadness. There are no "right" or "wrong" feelings when processing grief, but there can be unhealthy ways to address those feelings. It's essential that a grieving person receive support from loved ones and use effective coping strategies when processing feelings associated with grief.

Expect to gradually adjust to a life without the deceased
When a significant person dies, their absence may be felt in multiple areas of one's life. If the deceased lived with a grieving person, then adjusting to a home absent of the deceased's presence may take time. Additionally, if the deceased provided financial support, then a grieving person may need to drastically alter their lifestyle by moving into a cheaper residence, obtaining a job in order to support themselves, or giving up costly activities in order to save money. If the deceased offered emotional support, then finding other people who can provide that kind of support may be challenging. A child who loses a parent may need to take on additional responsibilities in order to support their family members. A child who loses their only sibling may begin to view themselves as an "only child" instead of as an "older sibling" or "younger sibling." The list of adjustments can be endless, and it's vital to ask for support whenever and wherever it is needed.

Expect to maintain a connection with the deceased
This aspect of the grieving process can be confusing for many people - how can a person maintain a connection with someone who has died? Depending on one's spiritual beliefs, it may be possible to maintain a connection with the deceased through prayer, meditation, or other activities. Connections can be maintained by writing letters to the deceased, viewing photos of the deceased, sharing memories of the deceased with loved ones, visiting the deceased's gravesite (or their favorite place to visit, if there isn't a gravesite), continuing to practice family traditions that were meaningful to the deceased, or becoming involved in causes that honor the deceased. In cases where the relationship was abusive, a grieving person may seek to gain closure by communicating previously unexpressed thoughts and feelings with the deceased by writing a letter or discussing the abuse with loved ones. A person should never be expected to "ignore," "forget about," or "replace" the deceased after they are physically gone, as their legacy will always remain in the minds of people who knew the deceased.

Expect to play an active part in the healing process
Many people want to believe the grief will "pass" if they distract themselves for long enough and attempt to ignore the feelings they're experiencing. Failing to address the grief can lead to the development of mood or anxiety disorders, as well as a condition called "complicated grief," which can cause a person to feel "stuck" in their grief after what is considered a "normal" time frame. If loved ones and coping strategies aren't able to provide enough support, then consider meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in grief, such as a bereavement counselor. Mental health professionals can provide validation and normalization for what a grieving person is experiencing, as well as introduce grief-related activities to identify "triggers," develop coping skills and social support, process unresolved feelings, and so on. Local hospices and non-profit organizations may offer support groups for the loss of parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, friends, and even pets!

The following is a resource for those who are grieving and want to begin processing the feelings associated with grief. Dr. Ira Byock, a physician who specializes in palliative care, emphasizes that it's important to address the "four things that matter most." This letter can be completed pre- or post-death, and there are a number of things that can be done with the letter once it has been completed. Some people may want to share the letter with loved ones or with a mental health professional. Other people may prefer not to share the letter and instead keep it in a safe place, such as in a "memory box" (a pre-made or handcrafted box containing items that remind a person of the deceased, such as pictures). Another option is to get rid of or destroy the letter as a way to "let go" of any thoughts or feelings that my be interfering with the grief process. These are a handful of options that can be used by a person who is grieving, and the most important thing is for a person to find an option that feels "right" to them. This is true for all grief-related activities, since every experience is unique and only the grieving person can determine what will assist them throughout the process.

Dear _________________,
Please forgive me...___________________________________________.
I forgive you...___________________________________________.
Thank you...___________________________________________.
I love you...___________________________________________.
From, _________________.
(If "I love you" doesn't apply, then substitute with "Good bye.")

Last edited by Halcyon; November 10th 2014 at 09:31 PM.
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