Grief after the loss of a loved one may feel like a very personal struggle that you must find your way through alone. But grief and loss support can make the experience easier and maybe even a rewarding process.
Difficult periods in life can require more resources or tools than we use day to day. Processing through grief takes time, but there are things you can do to find comfort and support during this time. Below are things to keep and mind and what to look for when you’re searching for grief and loss support.
How Grief Feels
First, it’s important to remember that grief feels different for every person. Know that most people experience strong emotions that may be very intense at times. Right after a loss, common reactions include shock, disbelief and numbness. Initial emotional pain can be acute. Long-term reactions to grief and loss may include anxiety, fear, and guilt.
You may wonder if your reactions and emotions to grief are “normal.” Grief can create emotional, physical, spiritual, and social changes that are especially intense the first few months. Be assured that over time, these reactions will rise and fall, feeling overwhelming at times and manageable other times.
The experience of grief is sometimes compared to ocean waves. At first the waves are tsunami-like. But as time goes on, the waves reduce in height and frequency. Keep in mind that this process is not even or linear, but rather up and down. Look for the trend to be slowly improving.
It might be helpful to know that just as a physical wound has pain associated with it, so does the emotional wound of loss. As you mourn (the technical term for the process of grieving), you heal the wound by getting the feelings up and out of you.
If your grief feelings do not begin to ease over time or are still debilitating, you may have complicated grief. In this case, these painful emotions are so long-lasting and severe it is difficult to recover from the death and move forward. There is usually a “stuck” quality to complicated grief.
If you or a loved one thinks you may have complicated grief, contact your doctor or mental health professional. If you are in the Chicagoland area, we have therapists who specialize in grief and loss support and can help you develop tools to begin working through your grief.
What Is Grief And Loss Support
Remember that grief is a natural response to the death of a loved one, and what you are feeling is a common experience. But just because grief is common does not mean that everyone is equipped to reassure you or truly understand what you are going through. Because of this, utilizing support groups and other appropriate resources can be extremely helpful during this time.
Support From Social Networks:
Immediately following a death, you may receive large amounts of support from your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. These individuals may be grieving, as well. Sharing memories about your deceased loved one back and forth with them can be a great comfort to both of you.
Just because your loved one is no longer alive does not mean they are gone from the impact they had and continue to have on your life. Avoiding the topic with friends, family, colleagues, and others can be more harmful. Moments of shared remembrance can help everyone heal and cope with the loss.
Support From Talking:
Talking about your loss and allowing yourself to feel your emotion also helps you process your sadness and all the feelings that make up grief. If you selectively numb uncomfortable emotions, like sadness, you may begin to feel numb to positive emotions as well.
While it may be difficult in the beginning, as you allow yourself to talk about your grief and experience emotions that arise, your pain will gradually lift. And as the pain becomes less blinding, you will begin to see new perspectives and continue move through your grief.
Grief counseling, also know as bereavement counseling, can make it easier to work through your sorrow. Through grief and loss support therapy with a trained professional, you can explore your emotions and learn healthy coping skills.
Grief counseling can help you find how to say good-bye in your own way, accept your loss, develop new routines, and find a new sense of peace.
Grief And Loss Support Groups:
A support group is an excellent resource where grieving individuals support and help each other. You may feel a sense of community and understanding because people who attend these groups have experienced a similar loss.
There is no need to put on a brave face. Instead there is freedom to openly express yourself and share your feelings. You can laugh, cry, or whatever you need to do to process through your grief and receive acceptance, understanding, and support from others.
Grief and loss support groups can also provide the opportunity to have your experience confirmed by others. Processing through a loss is messy, and there are times your feelings will be confusing and you may not know if your reactions are reasonable. Others who have been there can confirm your process and offer information, advice, and other helpful resources.
Being part of a support group also offers you the ability to help others in the group when the time allows. Participants in a support group share experiences and support each other. This process builds your mood, self-worth, and self-esteem.
It is important to find a group that you feel is a right fit. For example, a support group for specific kinds of loss, instead of a general grief support group, may be more beneficial to you. There are many support groups in the Chicagoland area or you can use this resource to find one closer to home.
Support From Self Care:
After a death, it may be difficult to recognize the importance of self-care. It may feel overly indulgent during a distressing time and you may feel shame or guilt over the idea. Grief can significantly affect you emotionally and physically, so self-care is essential during this time.
Grief can create sleep disturbances, appetite changes, mood fluctuations, forgetfulness, decreased focus, and despair, to name a few. Self-care does not mean keep busy and distracted. Rather, self-care means listening to what you need, and allowing yourself space to have it. Self-care moments give you the opportunity to nurture your mind, body, and spirit.
• Eat Healthy to fuel your body and mind right. Diets high in processed or refined foods can impair brain function and worsen some mood disorders, like depression. But don’t over-do it. Little indulgences are incredibly comforting and even rewarding when needed.
• Regular Exercise not only improves your physical health, but has an immediate positive effect on mood and, in some cases, acts like an anti-depressant.
• Sleep is restorative to your body and mind. About 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly is recommended. During times of grief, sleep may feel like a luxury. Some lifestyle changes can help promote sleep, or consider talking to your doctor to determine if medication is recommended.
• Relaxation is an element of self-care that can take many forms, such as reading a good book, going for a run, or having coffee with friends. Incorporate easy and accessible actives throughout your day that allow you to relax and unwind, even for a moment.
If You Are Supporting Someone Who Is Grieving
If you are supporting someone who is grieving over a death, it can be hard to know how to comfort them. The book Effective Grief and Bereavement Support outlines ways you can help:
- Give support on the bereaved’s terms through communication and knowledge
- Be open, direct and sincere about:
- Your insecurity about how to be supportive
- The need for the bereaved to express how he or she wishes to be approached
- Take initiative instead of waiting for him or her to reach out
- Be present and available
- Listen sincerely and earnestly
- Show empathy, respect, and patience for his or her way of grieving
- Remember and mention the deceased
- Give practical assistance
When Should A Professional Be Included In Your Grief And Loss Support
Grief can be a painful, difficult process. Grief and loss support varies largely for each person. Many find enough support from family and friends or through their own resources to gradually learn to live with the loss. Most do not seek out professional help.
However, if you are depressed by your grief, are struggling to manage day-to-day activities, or suspect you have complicated grief, a mental health provider should be consulted. It is important to develop a personalized support plan that works for you.
At Life Care Wellness in the Chicago-land area, we have many qualified therapists in Glen Ellyn or Jefferson Park to assist you through your grief. Contact us today if you need grief and loss support.
Jean Tschampa, PharmD, LCPC, CADC, C-IAYT, BCC
Jean Tschampa is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn and Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood), Illinois. She specializes in wellness, life transition, anxiety, and addiction treatment, and is a Board Certified Coach, as well as professional counselor. As a registered pharmacist, Jean can also provide medication therapy management for those experiencing issues with medication.