A public poll once asked how long it should take to mourn the death of a loved one. Most thought 48 hours to two weeks. According to grief experts it takes at least two to three years.
Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the death of a loved one or to a major loss in your life. Grief is also experienced with divorce, miscarriage, moving from your home, the loss of a major dream, the loss of a limb, the loss of your health, and the loss of a beloved pet.
When a loved one dies, most people are unprepared for the floodgate of emotions that sweeps over them and alters their life irrevocably. They feel devastated, crushed, flattened, disorientated, and confused. They have great difficulty even getting through the ordinary tasks of daily living.
People who have not experienced a major loss can simply not imagine how overwhelming this loss can feel to you.
Friends and relatives sincerely want to help, but they often don't know what to say. They may try to comfort you with empty platitudes and dumb cliches that only make you feel worse.
Loving, patient, and non-judgmental support is the greatest gift you can give people experiencing a major loss in their lives.
On a physical level, the most common symptom you are likely to experience after a major loss is profound fatigue, especially in the first year. Forgetfulness and sleep problems are also very common after a death. Other symptoms include headaches, joint pains, back pain and recurrent infections. You may develop a mysterious ailment for which your doctor can find no answers.
Between three and six months after the loss, when all your friends think you should be over this now, the full and devastating emotional impact of the loss hits you in full force like a tidal wave. It feels like you have been numb before that time.
Commonly a whole year goes by in which you walk about like a zombie, barely able to keep up the pretence of functioning. One day you wake up and know you will recover. But then it will still take another one or two years before you have fully accepted the loss and made it a part of your life.
One of the most important things to remember is that you don't get over your loss, you learn to accept it, work through it, and make peace with it.
If necessary, there are grief support groups available as well as experienced councillors, physicians, ministers and other spiritual advisors. Psychiatrist Edward Pakes, director of the Bereavement Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto believes that the guidance and support of families though the grieving process is good preventative medicine.
It's not surprising that most of us don't know how to comfort others or handle our own loss. "Simple first aid gets more attention in our world than death and loss." say James and Cherry, authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook (Harper and Row, 1988): ..."We're taught how to acquire things, not how to lose them... the process of losing something feels wrong, unnatural or broken."
A major pitfall to recovering from grief is feeling pressured to pretend we have recovered. James and Cherry call this the Academy Award Recovery. In the end it is much kinder to allow ourselves our grief instead of avoiding it.
Bob Deits, author of Life After Loss (Fisher Books, 1988), maintains that grief is an honourable emotion, not something to hide and be embarrassed about. He says that grief is both a testament and a tribute to the one who has died or left.
Deits adds that the only healthy way out of grief is through it because there is no way around it. Grief pushes you to greater depths, understanding and compassion. It gives you a higher level of "bullshit" detector. It makes you aware of what is important in life. It is a difficult and thorny gift whose treasures we only discover with the passage of time.
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