We’ve all been through a time when the world seemed dull and hopeless after experiencing a loss – regardless of whether they’re family, friends or simply an individual of great significance to us. People experience loss in a multitude of ways beyond the passing of a loved one; we grieve at the end of a relationship, a permanent change in appearance, a passing life stage, or simply anything that we can never again regain or revisit. Due to the cyclic nature of life, we deal with grief constantly. Some of them are more gradual and less noticeable like ageing, while others may be more unexpected and sudden like the death of a loved one.
Grief affects us in ways beyond both physical and emotional pain. The five stages of grief modelled by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross concluded that the five major emotions experienced during grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). This model was based on her work on patients with terminal illnesses, suggesting that these five stages were more applicable to people facing their own existential crises rather than those who were grieving. But in practice, we find that the five stages were also shown in grief clients despite the lack of linearity of graphical evidence. Most of the time these emotions are interwoven with many others, including guilt and fear. Beyond emotional responses, the process of grief also includes natural physical responses like sleeplessness, appetite loss, and a weakened immune system. But with proper coping mechanisms, these responses can be alleviated with time, allowing you to feel more prepared to make peace with it.
Grief is a personal and subjective process, and coping mechanisms vary amongst people, so there is no norm or timetable to abide by. In most cases, people can process and resume their day-to-day functions after a certain period of time. However, in more severe cases (i.e., the loss of a romantic partner, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandparent) we find it overwhelming. Especially if such grief was complex or unresolved (for example through sudden life changes, traumatic events, or unresolved issues with the deceased). During Covid-19, these situations were more prevalent than ever before. One of my friends was unable to complete quarantine in time to see his beloved family member in the hospital for the last time. Another one was unable to enter Hong Kong due to Covid-19 restrictions and had missed the last call from his father before he passed in the ICU.
In sessions, we sometimes find people still struggling with loss even after many years due to the build-up of pain over time in addition to mental challenges stemming from grief, including difficulties in emotion regulation or disassociation. Such challenges can become debilitating as individuals often do not even realise that grief is still affecting them. Clinically, the prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was found in approximately 9.8% of bereaved adults in the population. Of the adults suffering from PGD, the symptoms they experienced consisted of intense preoccupation with the deceased, persistent distress, detached or numbed emotion, inability to trust others, and avoidance of the reality of loss (Rosner et al, 2018).
However, there are many ways to make it easier to cope with grief. If you are currently grieving, there are a multitude of things that may help you navigate this time:
- Know That You Are Not Alone
Because there was love, there will be pain. Whenever there is a start, there will be an end. As the pain of loss is natural and inevitable, no one can live without going through it. But rather than fearing it, try to remember that it is possible to have an easier relationship with the pain of the loss by allowing ourselves to feel it.
- Talk About Your Feelings
If you feel that you are struggling with grief, resistance or avoidance will not lift the burden. Instead it may cause unnecessary frustration. Try to express and share your feelings though they are difficult. It will aid your grieving progress. Begin to share these thoughts with your support system, address them in a journal, and find your emotional outlet.
- Share Your Memories
Share your memories to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Recalling and sharing the memories with those you surround yourself with can bring you a sense of peace amidst this painful time. The most memorable moment during the funeral of a loved one is the sharing of cherished memories with the people who share our pain. These moments may remind us of the fragility of life and how despite the fact that we are mortal, the love we have is eternal.
- Find Ways to Remain Connected With Your Loved One
You can still connect with those who are no longer with us. I have seen many post-it memos placed along the surface of a tombstone by a wife or a grandchild, each inscribed with a message yearning for their beloved husband or grandfather’s embrace one last time. While others may play songs they used to listen to together, or plant a tree to symbolise their everlasting life. These things serve as a reminder to us that despite our loved one not being physically with us, they are here with us in spirit.
- Prioritise Yourself
Everyone grieves at their own pace. To find the best way to heal you have to take care and prioritise yourself. If you feel like crying, cry it out. If you need space, ask for space. It is not selfish nor insensitive to take time for yourself to heal. Please do not be hard on yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ in such circumstances, instead, we learn how to be strong enough through grief. Only through pure transparency with ourselves and our emotions can we make peace with them.
- Remember That Your Life is Valuable
There are a lot of changes that follow loss, sometimes the change is so drastic that you begin to feel lost in the world. Just as how precious the deceased are to you, your life is just as precious to your family, your friends, and most importantly, your own self. With this mindset you will learn to find purposefulness in continuing on with the future and finding back your sense of self that was lost amidst the grief.
- Seek Help When You Need It
If you ever feel overwhelmed in the madness, reaching out to your support system is a wonderful method. You can also read self-help books pertaining to grief, seek help from your religion, your support group, or perhaps by paying a visit to a professional psychotherapist as a source of help for navigating past these mental challenges.
If you are accompanying someone who is grieving, here are some helpful ways you can engage:
- Keep Them Company
Yes, you just need to stay with them. Remember that they do not need advice or positive talk at the moment, they simply need your presence. Having someone alongside you who is listening with all of their heart is one of the best forms of support. Even if you cannot be there in person, texting or calling them is another viable way of showing support. The feeling of being cared for will aid them through this difficult time.
Whether it is house renovation, work, or travel planning, it can help people temporarily disconnect from reality and focus on the world around them. Exercise is always a good idea to help them feel uplifted naturally, so asking them for a walk if they are willing to do so is another effective form of distraction. If they do not want to engage in anything physically, providing them with a list of TV show recommendations may help occupy part of their mind.
- Be of Help
There are a multitude of things you can do to help provide an extent of aid towards a grieving individual. For instance, you can help them with their chores, take their kids to the park, order food for them, etc., Simply by doing this you are offering substantial help and providing time and energy for the individual to deal with the chaos surrounding their loss.
- Respect, Empathy, and Understanding
There are times when grieving individuals may have some irrational thoughts like bargaining with fate or impulsive, emotion-centred reactions such as blaming the hospital or the doctor. Try to give them space to sort things out and accommodate them with understanding. Everyone heals at their own pace, so your respect is an important buffer for them to feel supported and loved to learn to make peace with their bereavement.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of the loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler
It is a heartbreaking part of the journey. But aren’t we blessed to ever have someone or something that was so hard to let go of in this life?
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, David. (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss (Scribner trade pbk. ed.). Scribner.
Rosner, Rita, Rimane, Eline, Vogel, Anna, Rau, Jörn, & Hagl, Maria. (2018). Treating prolonged grief disorder with prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 19(1), 241–241. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2618-3
If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.
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