The Pain of Grief – Reactions and feelings

Grief is all encompassing. It affects every aspect of our being. It takes people by surprise. Until you have experienced it, many do not know the impact that it has on a life. Often, one may experience the very symptoms that their loved one was experiencing before they passed away. That doesn’t mean they have the same disease but they are so entwined with their loved one that they unconsciously begin to feel what they had felt. They may start to experience the same symptoms. Whatever you experience is normal. If symptoms continue for weeks, consult a doctor.

What are you experiencing? All these are normal reactions to grief:

Physical Sensations:

  • hollow stomach
  • tight chest, throat, stomach (Check with your doctor if you have signs of heart attack)
  • loss of appetite (may need to force yourself to eat – try at least light, small meals)
  • breathlessness
  • dry mouth
  • increase or decrease in appetite (Weight gain or loss of 10 pounds or more – contact your doctor)

Thought Patterns:

  • disbelief
  • preoccupation
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • sense of presence (Especially a spouse will sense the person is there with them)

Behaviors:

  • sleep disturbances (dreams, difficulty sleeping, restless)
  • absent-minded behavior (forgetful, unable to concentrate on tasks)
  • dreams of the loved one
  • searching and calling out
  • restless over-activity
  • immobilized in face of decisions (Have a trustworthy friend help with decisions. Don’t make major decisions like moving or changing jobs for the first year unless absolutely necessary)
  • treasuring objects that belonged to your loved one (Don’t get rid of possessions quickly. Take time to think things through)
  • visiting places or carrying objects that remind the survivor of their loved one.
  • social withdrawal (Spending even short times with close friends can be healing even though you may need to force yourself to do it.)
  • avoiding reminders of your loved one
  • sighing
  • crying (Tears are okay. They are a gift from God. We are the only animal that has tears to cleanse our emotions. Cry when you need too!)
  • feelings are raw and easily hurt

(List adapted from “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy” by William Worden.)

Do you feel:

Deprived…because something important has been taken away?

Ravaged…because of something that has been ripped from you? Were you robbed of someone special?

Isolated…set aside from others and alone, like you don’t belong to anyone? Weeks after a loss, it is not unusual for people to stop coming around.

Frightened…as though you aren’t going to make it through this suffering? Overwhelmed with responsibility, panic, inability to do tasks.

Angry…because you’ve been mistreated and life isn’t fair? Can be the most destructive if not dealt with as it can lead to inappropriate behavior.

Despondent…disheartens, lacking courage and hope?

Depressed…like you’ve been pressed down to the ground, flattened, hollow?

Gloomy and dejected…feeling there is no way to go from here?

Sorrowful, disappointed…sad and filled with darkness? Most prominent feeling as memories are triggered by sights and sounds. Characterized by crying.

Inadequate…like you are not going to be able to do what has to be done?

Shameful, dishonored, disgraced…many people feel this way when they are left alone.

Guilty…were there things left undone, things you did to your loved one and now you feel as though you must pay for your sins? This is anger turned at yourself. Usually results in punishing self.

Resentful…because others are not suffering and because a lot of people are still alive who don’t deserve to be alive while you have lost someone of value?

Panic…that all of a sudden everything is going to blow up?

Yearning…to get back what you have lost?

Anguish…tight, choked up, and not knowing what to do with your pain?

Dejected…down, loss of spirit, discouraged because everything is useless?

Disappointed…because of broken expectations, hopes, dreams?

Helpless…that the world is just too overwhelming for you to cope?

Relief, thankful…this can be possible without feelings of guilt especially if it was a long illness.

Numb, weakened, deprived, deadened, empty, despairing??

(List adapted from “How to Grieve” by Paul Keller. Kairos, 1984)

What else do you feel?  What ever it is, it’s normal!

What will help is to first recognize your feelings. Stop and name them. What are you truly feeling? Next, own your feelings. Acknowledge them and share them with someone you can trust. Last, find a way to discharge your feelings.  Feelings are neither right nor wrong – they are just feelings! What you do with them is what is important. Act on them – talk, exercise, cry, punch a pillow, pray, read, help someone…

 REMEMBER that you are not required to apologize for your feelings and you do not have to keep others comfortable by denying your right to grieve. It may seem that your life has actually come to an end, but it hasn’t. It just feels that way from time to time. You have a right to feel whatever you feel. You have been deeply hurt. Do not feel guilt or shame about this. Own your feelings and then act on them. Do whatever it takes to get through. 

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