Understanding Grief

Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss.  It is the rollercoaster of emotions we feel when we lose something of value we did not want to lose.  Grieving comes from the Latin word "gravare" which means to burden or make feel heavy.  And that’s what we feel – weighed down.  We feel burdened.

Physical symptoms of grief

Aching arms
Dizziness or blurred vision
Exhaustion/Fatigue
Headache
Heart palpitations
Loss/Gain of appetite and weight
Muscle weakness
Restlessness/Sleep problems
Shortness of breath
Uncontrollable crying/Sighing
Decreased sexual interest
Numbness, tingling sensations
Smothering sensations
Dry mouth/Unusual thirst
Increased use of drugs or alcohol

Mental/emotional symptoms of grief

Feeling numb
Not able to concentrate
Impaired judgment
Anger/Irritability/Impatience
Sadness
Depression/Despair
Anxiety/Panic
Suspicion/Paranoia
Confusion/Disorganization
Memory loss
Helplessness/Powerlessness
Dependent on others
Isolation/Withdrawal
Loneliness/Abandonment
Restlessness/Agitation
Relief
Guilt/Regret
Longing
Feelings of being overwhelmed
Preoccupation with the one who has died

Many kinds of emotions are experienced during grief.  You may have different feelings at different times, and it may make no sense.  Feelings don’t need to be explained and don’t serve a purpose – they just are.  It’s important to acknowledge what you’re feeling and experience the feeling, label it.

If these symptoms persist or if you have difficulty functioning, call your health care provider.  If you’re worried that your grief is not normal, call your provider.

Incongruent grief
Those who have experienced the same event may, at times, grieve the event in different ways.  The two people in a couple who have experienced the same loss may grieve that loss differently.  Couples need to understand that these differences in grieving may cause trouble in their communications and relationship.  It is good for couples to have a plan for dealing with the differences, so that when they see them developing, they can openly talk about them or seek help.

Coping strategies

  • Allow yourself time to grieve.  Keeping feelings bottled up prevents you from moving on.   These feelings, if kept inside, can start to destroy your sense of well-being.
  • Keep a journal.  Expressing feelings and thought through writing may help you with feelings of sadness or despair.  Some women write letters and poems to their babies, sharing feelings they never had a chance to express.
  • Talk with others who have shared similar experiences.  This can help with those feelings or questions you may have and help take away the sense of isolation.
  • Read books about your loss.  This can be an important beginning in understanding your loss.
  • Communicate with your partner, family and friends.  Do not stop communicating.  Set aside time to talk with your partner on a regular basis, especially the first days at home.  This can help diminish your pain and loneliness.
  • Exercise will help you recover physically.  It will also help release some frustration or stress.  Exercise can help restore a sense of well being.
  • Getting enough sleep is essential for your emotional and physical well being.

Counsel for grieving parents

  • The most important thing is to express any feelings you have.  Talk to someone who cares and will listen.  Or take time to think about your loss.  Draw.  Journal. Include the pregnancy and the baby in your daily thoughts and prayers.
  • Don’t run away from the grief because it will catch up with you.  You can’t go around grief; you must go through it.  If you try to keep your feelings inside, they will make you physically, emotionally, and mentally sick.
  • Every person grieves differently.  No two people grieve the same way.  Some people talk a lot, some never talk.  Some people cry a lot, some never cry.  Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Grief must be worked through at your own pace and schedule.
  • Be patient and gentle with yourself.  It is common to feel exhausted and drained of all energy.  Do not rush decisions or let others rush you.  Slow down and take the time you need to adjust to your new situation.
  • Grief is a battle between the head and the heart.  The head knows what happened with this loss, but the heart does not always want to accept what the head knows.  When your heart and head are on the same page, much of your major grief work is done.
  • Grief involves a lot of fear of the unknown.  Sometimes you may feel that you’re going crazy.  You are not, but you do need to work things out.
  • Grief is not a one-time process.  It can come in waves off and on for the rest of your life.
  • Be aware of “grief triggers” – those things that remind you of your loss.  For people who have experiences a pregnancy loss, that can be seeing pregnant women, newborn babies, diaper commercials.  This shows that you have not forgotten your baby and that your heart never will.
  • Men and women grieve differently and on their own schedules.  Some wait to grieve fully until they know that others have done their major grieving.  They want to take care of the others and “fix” the pain.  They can’t fix it.  Others “sit heavily” in their grief right away – they grieve intensely.  Some people want to return to their activities right away and find that comforting; others need to take time away.  Do what is right for you and communicate to family and friends what you need to do and why.
  • Children grieve but usually not for long periods of time.  Allow and encourage them to talk about their feelings. Help them to find ways to express their feelings and show that it’s ok to talk about their loss.
  • Expect people to not be able to handle your grief all the time.  Sometimes the people you thought could help the most disappear when you are grieving and people you never thought would help come and help in wonderful ways. 
  • Ask for what you need.  Some people may not be able to be with you in your grief.  It is too painful or frightening for them.  Tell people what you need from them and if they can’t help, find someone who can. 
  • This loss may make you questions everything in your life – and that’s ok.  You may evaluate your spirituality, religion, God, your career, your family life.  This is to be expected and shows that you are trying to make sense of what has happened in your life and to regain a sense of control.

When is grief not normal?

If you have the following thoughts or problems, talk to a professional and get help:

  1. Persistent thoughts of self-destruction (suicide, hurting self)
  2. Failure to take care of basic needs for yourself (don’t want to shower or eat for long periods of time)
  3. Substance/chemical abuse problems (alcohol or drug problems get out of control)
  4. Persistent hallucinations/anxiety/anger/denial

How do I help a grieving person?

  • Be an interested listener
  • Talk about the loss.  Use the baby’s name.
  • Offer to help and then do it.  Provide a meal, clean the house.
  • Take them to lunch or go for a walk.
  • Do not judge them.
  • Give them space.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors – take them to the doctor, make a meal.
  • Do not encourage unhealthy behaviors – use of too much alcohol or misuse of medications.
  • Be flexible.
  • Give a hug (if they don’t mind).
  • Do not give advice unless asked.
  • Send them cards or call them.  Let them know that you’re thinking of them.
  • Do not talk about your issues or problems unless they ask.  Grief is a selfish time.  They may not think to ask about you – do not be offended.

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