Grief or bereavement is a natural human response to a significant loss. Most people experience bereavement after the death of a loved one, but it is also possible to experience grief in response to other losses such as a divorce or a romantic breakup, the loss of physical functioning, your home, pets, or job.
Bereavement is usually only thought of as the emotional suffering we feel after such a loss. The emotional “roller coaster” one may experience while grieving is difficult and exhausting. Depression and anxiety frequently occur during the grieving process.
It is helpful to understand, that grief is more complex and involved than just the emotional response. It also affects us spiritually, physically, cognitively, and socially. The important thing to remember, while you are grieving is that, while it may feel unbearable and overwhelming at first, grief is actually a healing process and time will help.
Everyone experiences grief differently and the variation in response is considerable. Some of the more common responses include feeling empty or numb, feeling deep sadness, guilt, regret or anger. One may have a spiritual crisis or notice physical changes such as fatigue, and trouble eating or sleeping. You may find yourself being absent-minded, withdrawing socially, or not wanting to participate in activities you used to enjoy. People often express that they feel like they are lost, losing their minds, or are out of control. It may seem impossible to make the adjustments you will need to make in the aftermath of your loss. All of these are normal reactions.
How Long Will My Grief Last?
The grief process is a highly individual experience and is largely influenced by ones culture, religious beliefs, the circumstances of the loss, and the amount of support one receives. There is no single timetable that applies to everyone. Depending on circumstances, it may last from months to years. Rather than concentrating on a specific timeline, it may be more helpful to focus on how the intensity and duration of the grieving process usually progresses.
Initially, grief may feel overwhelming and one can feel out of control. With time, people find they are more able to choose when they relive memories and experience emotions, which allows the person to feel more in control again. The intensity of grief one experiences is difficult to measure. It is dependant on many things – the degree of attachment to the person or thing, ones relationship to the deceased or lost item, ones level of understanding and social support from others, and the nature of the bereavement. However, no matter the intensity level, with the passing of time, most people find that they are better able to cope and continue on with their lives. The loss remains, and one may always experience a sense of sadness when reminded of the loss, but the intensity is no longer disabling.
What is “Complicated Grief”?
If one does not get better with time, he or she may be experiencing “complicated grief.” With “complicated grief,” the grieving process does not progress as expected. The intensity and duration of grief is prolonged and dramatically interferes with a persons ability to function. It is often characterized by long-lasting symptoms of depression and anxiety. Deaths such as suicides, murders, car crashes, and almost any other sudden and unexpected death can result in complicated grief, simply because they leave one in such shock that one can have great difficulty integrating the event into one’s reality. Complicated grief does not improve on its own. When the thoughts, feelings, behaviors and reactions to grief persist over long periods of time with little change, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional.