Ankita Gandhi Kamath

The loss of a loved one can be very stressful and challenging. Grieving is a painful and an overwhelming process. While grief is a reaction to any form of loss, bereavement refers to the process of recovering from the death of a loved one. Grief is the psychological-emotional experience following a loss of any kind (relationship, status, job, house, game, income, etc.), whereas bereavement is a specific type of grief related to someone dying. Each one of us has a unique way to deal with grief and bereavement. One may experience a range of emotions from shock to anger to guilt, sadness and even disbelief. The manner in which these feelings are experienced may vary drastically from one individual to another depending on one’s

personality, coping skills, belief system, relation with the deceased person etc. This will also determine how a person would cope and adjust with their loss. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

Symptoms of grief:

Grief can be expressed and experienced both emotionally and physically. For instance; shock, disbelief, sadness, loneliness, guilt and fatigue, nausea, fever/headaches, aches and pains, sleep disturbances respectively.

Stages of Grief:

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who introduced five linear stages of grief, originally developed this model to illustrate the process of grief associated with death and illness and how one progress emotionally through these following five stages:

Denial: (“This can’t be happening to me”)

Anger: (Whyis this happening to me?” Who is to blame?”, “Why did he/she leave me aloneand go?”)

Bargaining: (“I will do anything to get him back”, “God take me instead”, “I wanted him toto see me getting married” “If only I would have taken medical attention on time”) Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” statements

Depression: (“I’m too sad to do anything” “I miss my loved one; why go on?” “I havenothing to live for now?”)

Acceptance: (“It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it; I can’t change what happened” “I’m atpeace with what happened.”)

While these stages help us understand the process of grief it is important to note that the linearity of these stages is questionable. Some people have all of these feelings, while others may not experience any, or experience them in a different order. You do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. Natural process of healing is quite a unique process. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Coping with the grieving process:

There are many ways to cope effectively with your pain.

  1. Acknowledge your pain and express your feelings with your close family members and friends.
  • Give yourself time to heal. Be patient and accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions with varied intensity at any given point in time.
  • Share your feelings with others who are experiencing similar losses while keeping in mind that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  • Avoid making impulsive decisions for your life before you accept and learn to adjust with this new life without your loved one.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health. Join support groups and seek professional help if necessary.

How to help others grieve?

Sometimes we truly want to help a friend or family member to help them through the grieving process. However many of us find it awkward or feel uncomfortable to genuinely support someone who’s grieving. We are so afraid that we might do more harm than good and therefore eventually choose to do nothing at all. This prevents us from being empathetic, proactive, or from reaching out to someone who is grieving.

Following are a few ways you may help:

Accept the situation and express your sorrow and concern. Talking about the deceased person is always difficult especially with the societal stigma attached to it and also with the lack of knowledge as to how to comfort or help the grieving person. By expressing your concern and asking about the loss shows you’re open to talk about it and that you attempt to offer support.

Encourage them to talk about their feelings of loss, how their loved one died and share memories of the deceased. This helps them to process and work towards accepting the reality.

Being non-judgemental and just being there helps the person to open up as they share their varied range of emotions. Sometimes by crying, blaming, getting angry or smiling. The person needs to feel that it’s ok to have this range of emotions without any criticism or judgement. Active listening helps your loved one heal. Just by patiently listening and just being there can be comforting.

Share but don’t compare if you’ve gone through a similar loss. Remember, though, that grief is an intensely individual experience. No two people experience it exactly the same way, so don’t claim to “know” what the person is feeling or compare your grief to theirs.

Be honest and genuine in your communication and avoid platitudes. Be patient. Remember that it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk. However do not give false hopes. Platitudes such as: “it was his time to go” “we all have to die one day” “Time heals all wounds” or “They are in a better place” are not helpful at all. You can’t be saying “it’s ok” when it is clearly “not ok”

Recommend professional help when you feel someone is experiencing too much pain and is unable to cope alone.

When to seek professional help for grief?

While it is natural to feel sad by the bereaved person for the significant loss however, if you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression. Complicated grief occurs more often after a death that feels traumatic, perhaps because it was premature, sudden, violent, or unexpected. If you feel intense emotions or are in an intense state of mourning and the pain of your loss stops you from moving ahead in life than it is advised to seek expert help.

Contact a professional therapist or a counsellor if you:

  1. Feel hopeless and worthless and think like life isn’t worth living
  • Indulge in self-blame, self-harm or even hurting others.
  • Isolate yourself and are socially withdrawal for more than months
  • Experience intrusive, upsetting memories, thoughts, and images of the deceased
  • Constantly yearn for the deceased
  • Unable to accept the reality of the death
  • Experience frequent nightmares and panic attacks
  • Feel extremely lonely
  • Don’t experience any moment of joy or pleasure
  1. When you don’t feel like taking care of your health
  1. Frequently have pains and aches and fatigue
  1. Loss of appetite and disturbed sleep
  1. Wish you had died with your loved one
  1. Feeling that life is empty or meaningless
  1. Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

Other reasons to seek professional help include history of addiction and clinical depression or anxiety, increased use of alcohol, tobacco or drug abuse, also to help rule out any other comorbidity with any other psychiatric or clinical disorders.

With the help of a mental health professional one can equip themselves with adaptive coping strategies, rethink their purpose in life, build insight and prevent major emotional damage. While one may not be able to take away their pain completely but by creating awareness regarding the same we can cultivate hope and support in their journey towards healing for both the bereaved individuals as well as friends and families who would want to offer help to their dear ones.

Ankita Gandhi Kamath,

Consultant Clinical Psychologist,

Mind Care Clinic,

(Bandra west, Mumbai)

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