What should I expect during the grief process?
Many people wonder what is "normal" during the grief process. Below is a list of some of the normal grief reactions that you may have. However, your grief reactions are unique to your situation and personality.
You may experience:
- Shock or disbelief that it has finally happened
- Feeling numb, feel nothing
- Feeling lost, unsure what to do
- A tightness in the chest, or a heaviness in the body
- A tightness or a lump in your throat
- Being unable to cry, or unable to stop
- Feeling fearful of the future
- Anger at your loved one
- Anger at God
- Guilt that you should have done or said something different
- An inability to concentrate, read or follow a TV program
- Feeling intensely sad or depressed
- Feeling irritable and short-tempered
- Relief that the exhausting caregiving is over, or that your loved one's struggle is over
- An inability to imagine how you will live without your loved one
- Feelings of being trapped or hyperactive, like you can't stop moving around
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Feeling overwhelmed, like your brain is going to explode with all the decisions you have to make
- Feeling extremely tired and fatigued
Grief is a normal process and it is a time of reorganization of our entire world.
I can't cry at all. What's wrong with me? Or ... I can't stop crying. What's wrong with me?
People are very different in how they express their grief. Some people are criers and others are not. It is important to value how you experience grief, and not let others tell you that you are doing it wrong. The important thing to remember is that you should find some way to express your grief. For some of you it may be crying, for others it may be things like talking, reading, journaling, making craft projects in honor of your loved one or scrapbooking ... anything that helps express your feelings about the loss.
Time heals all wounds, right? So can't I just ignore this grief thing and just stay really busy?
Time really doesn't heal all wounds…. It's what you do with the time that heals. You can choose to encounter your grief, or you can choose to ignore it. Time will go forward either way, but those who allow themselves to experience their grief will move toward healing.
It's been three months since my loved one died. Why am I feeling worse?
It is normal to feel worse at a later point after the loss. Many times people function on auto pilot right after a loss and feel like they are in a fog for quite some time after their loved one died. When the fog begins to clear (and that may take a few weeks or a few months), grief can become more acute. Unfortunately, this is about the time that other people begin to expect you to be "back to your old self." So, many grievers face the awkward situation of everyone assuming they are feeling better when they are actually feeling worse.
Sometimes I think I'm going crazy … am I?
Many grievers report feeling like they are going crazy. There are many reasons why people express that they feel this way. One is that the grief experience is filled with so many emotions and experiences that it is often overwhelming. Another reason is that other people expect the griever to be "back to normal" fairly quickly. They will say things like "You are so strong," or "You look so well." The truth is that while most grievers put up a strong front on the outside, on the inside they may feel as if they could break down at any second. It is often this difference between how we look and how we really feel that makes grievers feel a little crazy. Be assured that even though you may feel like you are going crazy, you are probably just experiencing the reality of grief. It is important for grievers to find at least one person with whom they can share their true feelings.
Are there stages that I will go through in grief?
There are no set stages that you will go through in an orderly way. Grief is a chaotic and changing process by its very nature. Although people are very different, they do have some similarities in what they will experience. Most likely, during your grief journey you will negotiate, in your own way, the following tasks, based on those by grief author William Worden:
- You will accept the reality of the death of your loved one
- You will experience the feelings, emotions and thoughts surrounding the loss
- You will eventually adjust to the world around you, a world without your loved one
- You will learn to become re-involved in the world--honoring the past, living in the present and looking forward to the future.
How long will grief last?
Grief is a process rather than an activity with a defined ending. It is a very individual process. The course of your grief will depend upon your relationship with the person who died, the nature of their death and your coping style. In general, the cultural belief that grief starts subsiding in about six weeks is not true. Often, that is when your loss really begins to sink in on a deeper level. If you as a griever are not avoiding the grief process, it should change over time and become less intense and more manageable.
Will I ever feel better?
Yes, you most likely will. If you have experienced your grief and not avoided it, you will probably find that your grief will become more manageable over time. The intensity of your grief and the amount of energy your grief takes will decrease as you move along in your journey. You will find that you are able to invest more energy in other people and things as you work through your grief. This happens in very different time frames for people, depending on the nature of their loss, their personality and their relationship with the person who died.
How would a grief support group help me?
A support group is a safe place for grievers to talk about their experience of grief. Often grievers are encouraged to "be strong" and so they often keep their feelings to themselves so they don't disappoint others. A support group also provides information about the grief process so that people understand what is normal and how they can best cope with their loss. It can be intimidating to come to a support group, but the vast majority of people who do come experience some relief from their feelings of grief.
Where can I get help if I need it?
There are many resources that grievers can access. Books can be a big source of comfort, and there are many available that talk about the grief process and coping. Many agencies offer support groups and workshops, often free of charge. Community Home Health and Community Health Network both offer grief support groups. Many counselors specialize in grief therapy. For children, Camp Erin® Indianapolis is a free weekend-long grief camp for kids ages 6-17; Brooke's Place offers free grief support services for children/teens/young adults ages 3 - 22+.