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Coping and adapting to the loss of a loved one

Grief is a natural, powerful and human response to the loss of someone close to us

Common experiences with grief

The death of a loved one is one of the most challenging losses we face in life. People react to grief in different ways. The feelings created by the loss can be intense, overwhelming and often change frequently and dramatically. This makes the whole process feel chaotic and out of control. The strength of these feelings usually decreases over time, and you may need some reassurance that you won’t always feel this bad. It takes time and support for you to adjust to the new reality, and to start to feel you can recover.

Grief has a purpose

Grief allows us to experience the pain of loss and make the gradual readjustment to life without the person who has died. It’s not an illness to be cured or treated but part of the human condition. Grief can be overwhelming, but as you heal the intensity and frequency of these feelings gradually decreases. Allowing yourself time and support, you’ll adjust to your new reality and feel you can recover.

Tips on helping yourself
  • feel whatever you feel, and be kind to yourself
  • get as much rest as you need and try to exercise
  • eat nutritious food when you can
  • ask for and accept help
  • spend time with people who you find helpful
  • if you have children, enlist family and friends for help as it may just be too much for you to support grieving children while you too are grieving
  • make a memory box, scrapbook or ‘things that made us laugh list’
  • continue the connection with the person who has died:
  • talk to them, look at the photos, visit the place where they are buried or where their ashes are scattered
  • don’t feel you must grieve all the time – try some things you enjoy as well, if you feel up to it
  • It’s okay to smile and feel happy. Your loved one would want that for you and it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting them.
  • get to know your own rhythm for grieving, staying with the sadness and making sense of it, and then retreating from it and distracting yourself
  • get friends or family to help when your emotional or physical energy is low
  • read books about grief or visit helpful websites
Support from those around you

People may be full of well-meaning advice, but often the best support is from someone you trust who will simply listen and not be upset if you fall apart. Other people will have expectations of your behaviour – this is often more a reflection of their discomfort at your distress. Often people don’t know what to say, and for fear of upsetting you, say nothing. Chances are that they are grieving differently to you and are just doing it their way

Relationships

Grief can often affect the way people relate to friends and family and change how those relationships develop. This might include:

  • taking on new social roles
  • wanting to withdraw or not wanting to be alone
  • concern for other people’s reactions to you, and your reactions to them
  • understanding that grief is very individual and even a person’s gender can influence how they might experience it
  • the need to allow space for everyone and a respect for differences
What you might be experiencing

The range of physical, emotional and spiritual changes you could be experiencing are very broad and unique to you.

Physical:

  • overwhelming tiredness,
  • exhaustion and fatigue – like ‘walking in syrup’
  • nausea and no appetite
  • wanting to sleep a lot but being unable to sleep
  • having a lot of energy and wanting to be very busy
  • restlessness and agitation
  • changes in sexual feelings

Spiritual

  • questioning the meaning of it all or searching for answers
  • feeling pointless and asking questions like ‘why bother?’
  • feeling spiritually bereft or rejecting long held beliefs or alternatively gaining comfort from religious beliefs
  • searching for peace

Emotional

  • inability to stop thoughts running through your mind
  • replaying events in your mind wondering if you could have done more and going over ‘what ifs’
  • thinking nothing makes sense
  • confusion, foggy thinking and being unable to concentrate
  • worrying you are out of control
  • thinking this is never going to end
  • concern you won’t stop crying, screaming, raging, sobbing
  • worrying that others think you should be better by now
  • thinking ‘I can only manage one day, or one hour, at a time’
Helpful Suggestions
  • Self talk: A simple reminder every day that you are important
  • Gain Evidence: Start by simply noticing and writing down what it is that makes you ‘feel a little better’ in a day. Nothing is too insignificant. Keep adding to your list. Examples might be: Sitting in the sun, having a bath, drinking a cup of tea, the company of particular family or friends, not being around certain people, leaving the house, having a massage or a facial, playing pool, gardening, reading, listening to music, going to the movies, walking, yoga, meditation, volunteering.
  • Access: As your list grows, you may notice that some things are more easily accessible than others. The rule of thumb is ‘do whatever makes you feel a little better as often as you can access it”
  • Notice: At the end of each day notice and write what has ‘worked for you today’. Again nothing is too insignificant. Examples of this may be: Someone smiled at me, the sun was out so I did my washing, my house is clean, I called my friend and he/she was home.
  • Swap the word ‘should’ for ‘choose’: Be kind to yourself. Instead of saying ‘I should do the housework’, swap it for ‘The housework needs doing but I choose to lie on the lounge and read. When I choose to do the housework it will get done’.
  • Acknowledge your Strengths: All too often we focus on what we are not good at. Write down your strengths and start ‘getting better at what you are already good at’. Remember that everyone has deficits and strengths.Focus on your strengths.
  • Be gentle on yourself: Everything takes time and practice. You are going through one of the most difficult periods in your life. Allow yourself the time to grieve, take little steps and know that although life may never be the same as you knew it, you will find a ‘new meaning in your life’. Remember you cannot hurry healing, you can only nurture yourself to allow it to occur naturally.
  • Seek help: You are important. Your loved one wants you to find meaning in your life. Asking for help from family, friends and professionals will help the healing process.

Grief and bereavement support services

Talk to an experienced health professional

Download our Living well with Grief brochure