Loss is a powerful stressor in life; even those going through uncomplicated bereavement are likely to experience many symptoms of anxiety and depression and to undergo physiological changes which reduce the body’s ability to fight off disease. While popular notions suggest a steady and orderly progression of bereavement in stages, people grieve in highly individualised ways.
Depending on prior losses and on the particulars of the current loss, symptoms of anxiety may be most prominent or may mix with or be overshadowed by symptoms of depression. There is often a sense of unreality associated with first becoming aware of the loss. The griever may refuse to believe it has happened and can feel out of contact with those around him or her. Many people feel guilt because they do not initially feel any pain about the loss. They worry that they are abnormal or secretly unloving. This experience of numbness does not indicate a poor relationship. The numbness and sense of unreality may be replaced later with a sense of profound anxiety or sadness. This stage may be marked by repeatedly seeking the person who has died, possibly even feeling they briefly hear or see the deceased.
As the loss becomes “real,” grievers often experience overwhelming waves of sadness (and sometimes anger) that come suddenly with reminders of the loss. Interspersed among the low and painful periods can be brief bursts of almost ecstatic and enthusiastic feelings, which may again cause the individual to feel guilt. Wide swings in mood are, however, a normal part of bereavement. Most individuals feeling the ordinary pain of bereavement do not need counselling or medication to adjust. They may, however, benefit from participation in groups for those who have had recent losses.
Complicated Bereavement: Warning Signs
While there is no standard for what is healthy and unhealthy in bereavement, there are some warning signs of poor adjustment. Extensive avoidance of painful feelings and of reminders of the person who has died is not healthy. Coping by avoidance may appear to be working because it minimizes early distress, but it appears to place the griever at greater risk later. Those who find that they cannot bring themselves to go to the funeral or who isolate themselves from their grief experience with distracting activities (even those of planning the funeral) may be at increased risk for psychological and physical difficulties.
Share & Care Portugal is an organisation to help others in similar circumstances, set up by Debs after her husband Michael suddenly died. She felt so alone, had so much to arrange, trying to cope with the shock and then the onset of grief. CLICK HERE to see more details.
Alternatively, you can join the group on Facebook.
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