We experience grief in different ways. It is an inevitable and real experience in human existence. As human beings, we are bound to be attached to people, things, places etc. The concept of grief occurs when we experience loss or separation from something. As a result of the attachments we make towards people or things, places, we are bound to feel a sense of loss when we are forcefully detached from these love objects. While grief might be regarded as an emotion, it involves feelings, thoughts, sensation, movements and behaviors. When we lose someone to death, house to fire, or get sacked from a job, grief is the internal experience we pass through. We also experience grief during the end of a long relationship however, grief may be more intense, when it is due to the death of a loved one, especially if it is sudden, the person dies in their prime and tragically too. Although we are all affected by grief, the impact of the loss could vary depending on the age, gender, personality traits, available emotional and social support, and cultural orientation of the survivor.
WHAT IS GRIEF?
Grief, bereavement, and mourning are often used interchangeably. Grief can be regarded as a general term involving the loss or separation of something or someone special, while bereavement is often associated with the loss of a loved one to death. Mourning is the observable expression of grief, what people see (rituals, dressing, prescribed behaviors etc.) to know that you are bereaved.
Grief has been termed as a process that involves stages of intense emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual and behavioral responses after death, which continues until the individual comes to terms with their current situation and altered reality. Grief could manifest in different ways and intensity, and last for varying duration. Following the loss, the affected individual would need to reorganize their lives without the deceased (spouse, sibling, child, friend, parent etc.)
Witnessing the loss of a loved one could occur at any age in life. Some children lose their parents very early in life, couples lose a partner suddenly or after a protracted illness in marriages etc. With the tendency of death to occur at any point in time, bereavement becomes inevitable in humans. It should be noted that the presence of a deep attachment to a person would create a major grief response and a state of psychological shock. Losing a loved one to death (a spouse in particular) has been noted as the most devastating life event and ranks highest on psychological scales that measure difficulties associated with various life events.
REACTIONS ASSOCIATED WITH GRIEF (BEREAVEMENT).
There are a variety of ways that show that a person is bereaved, or grieving. These reactions could be long term, or short term, they could occur together, or separately. As noted earlier, individuals respond to loss uniquely hence, these emotional reactions are exhibited differently. The most occurring forms of grief reactions are: sense of shock and disbelief; numbness which could graduate to extreme sense of despair; sadness, irritation at the slighted things; frustration and anger; guilt, feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness, yearning for the deceased one, weeping, inability to sleep, and loss of appetite, thoughts of dying and reuniting with the dead person. Oftentimes the individual may sense the presence of a dead loved one in the room (seeing, hearing and smelling etc., depending on the closeness and the bond shared), they may cling on to a familiar object that reminds them of the deceased, or could avoid all forms of reminders. Other times, the bereaved usually dissuades all forms of comfort offered by others and may make an attempt to hurt themselves as seen in abnormal cases of grief reaction.
EFFECTS OF GRIEF (BEREAVEMENT)
The loss of a loved one is very devastating because of the finality of the event. Oftentimes we hear people say things like: “after i lost my spouse, i became a different person”, or “since the death of my mother, i have not been able to heal from it”. These statements show how the death involuntarily affects the bereaved person.
Grief affects an individual on major levels: Psychological, Cognitive, physical, social, spiritual and behavioral.
Psychological level: the individual may begin to show signs of anxiety, and depression. It is a common occurrence for the bereaved to experience mood swings, loneliness, guilt and anger, increased irritability, multiple fears including that of dying prematurely, disturbing dreams or wanting to die etc.
Cognitive level: the individual may experience confusion, disorientation, lack of concentration, zone out, reduced performance in both work, oftentimes, self-doubts may arise, they may be preoccupied (thinking and talking about) the deceased etc.
Physical level: Health conditions may deteriorate, in some situations, ill health may continue for days or weeks on end after, or even years. There may be the existence of new aches or pains that didn’t exist.
Behavioral Level: Following the loss of a spouse, some individuals may engage in unhealthy behaviors which may affect their mental and physical health. Behaviors such as smoking and drug use, pathological gambling, neglecting self care (not eating enough or too much, little or no physical activities) and personal hygiene etc.
Social interaction with other family members and friends could reduce, or even break off, in some situations, they may cling on to other family members for emotional support with the hope that the space left by the deceased may be filled by them.
In a country like ours where spirituality is placed highly, when a loved one dies, the survivor may begin to question his/her beliefs and go through a phase of distancing themselves from spiritual and religious activities.
THE GRIEF PROCESS
The individual experiencing grief goes through a series of four stages. These stages outlined below are associated with the loss of an attachment figure (spouse or loved one).
Phase of Numbing: In this stage, the individual feels a deep sense of loss, which creates the inability to accept the current situation. This stage is accompanied by physical distress, which could result in somatic symptoms (pain and fatigue). This period could last for weeks , and may be interrupted by intense feelings of anger and frustration.
Yearning and Searching: this phase involves the individual being aware of the emptiness left by the deceased, they may blame themselves for not doing enough to save or question the quality of time spent with deceased, there may be marked anxiety, as the plans and future have been disrupted by the death of the deceased. The individual may find themselves constantly occupied with thoughts of the deceased. If this phase isn’t resolved, the individual may find themselves left with a void that they are unable to fill..
Disorganization & Despair: There is the acceptance that things cannot go back to the way they were. There is the feeling of hopelessness, lack of interest in activities, oftentimes, there is depression as well as anger. It is important that we overcome this phase to avoid assimilating negative attitudes towards life.
Reorganization & Resolution: gradually the individual starts moving on and healing from their loss, as they begin to see things anew. New goals are set, new relationships formed, activities are rearranged to suit new realities.Trust and faith in people and life slowly returns and is eventually restored.
Losing a loved one is very devastating, and is uniquely experienced by the bereaved. It is essential that in times of grief, people surround themselves with individuals who will allow them to express emotions freely and give all the required support to ease the pain and other struggles they are passing through. For an individual experiencing grief, it is important that you do not make guilt eat deep into you, as it could make the mourning process more difficult. To those witnessing and sharing in their pain, you want to support them by listening, sharing happy memories (when they are ready), paying attention to and providing for their needs. We should also help them manage the guilt of being alive, while the loved one is gone forever, instead, they should be encouraged to celebrate the life and times lived by the deceased.
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