Grief & Loss

Understanding the Personal Response to Grief
Constructing a Hopeful Future
Helping Others Through a Time of Grief

Understanding the Personal Response to Grief

In the course of our lifetime, each of us develops relationships with others which take on special meaning to us. They may be parents, other family members, friends, teachers, even our pets. These are the people who in a variety of ways through nurturing and challenging us help us become who we are. Over the course of our life, each of us also experiences the death of someone we love. Whether this loss occurs as a result of illness, accident, or other trauma, we are left with a mixture of thoughts and feelings. We deeply sense their absence. The following suggestions are offered to assist us in understanding the constructive process of grief and the importance of remembering our loved one.

It is important to accept yourself

Grief is a natural and universal experience. Each of us, however, experiences loss in ways which are characteristic to our upbringing and personalities. While common elements exist in the bereavement process, there are no fixed formulas or schedules to which we must conform. Accepting yourself is an important step toward a healthy grief process.

Your feelings are normal

Following the loss of a loved one, a range of emotions may be experienced. These feelings include sadness, fear, despair, confusion, anger, guilt, and even a sense of numbness. These emotions may be felt in varying degrees of intensity and over differing periods of time. Our daily living patterns may trigger memories of our loss and associated feelings. Family celebrations, holidays, favorite places, songs, and experiences which were formerly shared with the loved one may remind us of our suffering. In the midst of our grieving, it is normal for us to wonder if our sorrow will ever subside. In time the memories of our loved one will remain, but the intensity of our strongest emotions is moderated. Even so, it is important to remember that over the years we do not forget the person. It may be helpful to think of your bereavement as a cycle in which periodically you are reminded of the loss and associated feelings.

Your daily routine may change

Following the death of a significant other, a person may feel quite different. You may be physically fatigued, have difficulty with your usual sleep pattern, experience an inability to concentrate for long periods, and lose some of your normal appetite. You may also find that your interest in work, social activities, and being with others diminishes somewhat. Activities and people you usually enjoy may seem to hold less attraction. During this period, some persons increase their involvement in work related and social activities in order to preoccupy their mind and energy and avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings associated with loss.

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Constructing a Hopeful Future

Be kind to yourself

Try to establish reasonable expectations about your ability and energy to meet current responsibilities. Guard against taking on new projects too soon. Remember that bereavement with its differing levels of intensity is a natural and essential process for remembering the loved one.

Create ways of remembering your loved one

Rituals can help us recall the positive dimensions of our relationship and connect us with community. Activities like journal writing, meditation, prayer, walking, singing, and visiting places formerly shared with the loved one can be creative outlets for your thoughts and feelings. They may also help remind us of the value of life itself.

Center yourself spiritually

Remind yourself of goals you have set for yourself. Remember the ways your loved one contributed to helping you develop and achieve your potentials. Imagine a future purpose for yourself and ways you wish to contribute to others. Seek to remind yourself in a variety of ways that your life has meaning. If you practice a religion, utilize its symbols, activities, and community to comfort and provide perspective.

Envision a hopeful future

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Allow them to be with you during this very important part of life. Try to remain physically active and sensitive to the beauty of life around you. Imagine there can be meaning to your future. Envision the love you felt for the person you lost will survive as a foundation for a creative future.

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Helping Others Through a Time of Grief

  1. Communicate your concern for the other person. Initiate conversation, listen, and be willing to talk about the loss.
  2. Be available. Let the person know that you are available, if needed
  3. Avoid making judgments about how a person should be feeling during their grief. People express their thoughts and emotions in a variety of ways, with differing levels of intensity and frequency.
  4. Acknowledge the difficulties in having easy answers to the hard questions about life and death. Affirm the appropriateness of questions and encourage conversation.
  5. Remember the importance of anniversaries, celebrations, and activities in which the loved one formally participated. Be sensitive to the memories special occasions and activities hold for the person.
  6. Be mindful of the importance in various types of relationships, e.g., friend, class mate, family member, neighbor, colleague, partner, or intimate.
  7. Be sensitive to the cyclic nature of grief. Be patient. Remember that grief can appear to come and go for no apparent reason. There is no fixed time in which the bereavement process is to be over.

Adapted from: University of Florida Counseling Center 301 Peabody Hall, Gainesville FL 32611 (352) 392-1575 © 2003

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