Grief is a term used to describe all the thoughts, behaviour and feelings that occur after someone goes through a bereavement.
A bereavement is any event that includes a loss. We may experience loss through the death of someone close to us, or a relationship breakdown, divorce, theft, a disability, illness, miscarriage and so on.
There is no “right” way to respond to a death, people will cope with a death in their own way. The way they respond will be affected by their relationship with the person who has died, their own upbringing, their previous reactions to losses, their other relationships etc.
Holidays, anniversaries, Christmas and so on can be difficult times for the bereaved, as they can remind us of the person they have lost. Grief can be worse at these times of year. There is no single way to grieve. Everyone is different and each person grieves in his or her own way. However, some stages of grief are commonly experienced by people when they are bereaved.
- 1- Feeling emotionally numb is usually the first reaction to a loss, and perhaps lasts for a few hours or days. In some ways this numbness may help the person get through the practical arrangements and family pressures that surround the funeral, but if this phase goes on for too long, it could be a problem.
- 2- The numbness may be replaced by a deep yearning for the person who has died. The person may feel agitated or angry, and find it difficult to concentrate, relax or sleep. They may also feel guilty, dwelling on arguments they may have had with the dead person or on emotions and words they wished they had expressed.
- 3- This period of strong, often volatile emotions usually gives way to bouts of depression, sadness, silence and withdrawal from family and friends. During this time, the person may be prone to sudden outbursts of tears, set off by reminders and memories of the dead person.
- 4- Over time, the pain, sadness and depression begin to lessen. The person begins to see their life in a more positive light again, although, it is important to acknowledge that they may never completely overcome the feeling of loss.
- 5- The final phase of grieving is to let go of the person who has died and move on with life. This helps any lingering depression to clear and sleeping patterns and energy levels return to normal.
The grieving process takes time and should not be hurried. How long it takes depends on the situation and the individual. In general, though, it takes most people one to two years to recover from a major bereavement. Mourning behaviours and rituals differ between societies and between religious groups both in their form and their duration.
Grief and depression are different. We can be grieving without being depressed. Grief is a typical reaction to a loss. It does not mean we have to become depressed as well. However, some of the symptoms are similar. But, about 33% of bereaved people have a depressive illness one month after their loss, with 15% still being depressed a year later.
A person may be depressed if they are also experiencing strong feelings of guilt not related to the bereavement, thoughts of suicide and dying, feeling worthless, slow speech and movements, staying in bed for long periods, inability to function socially and hallucinations about the deceased person. Some people are more prone to experience depression after bereavement, for example, if they have a history of depression, intense grief, few social supports and little experience of death. However, this does not mean that if a person has these characteristics that they will have depression after bereavement.
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