We love to put things into nice and neat boxes.
Grief is one of those things that just doesn’t fit in one. Grief has some surprising and confusing faces, leaving us feeling alone and confused. I love speaking about grief, and I’m finding people are grateful to learn about this very human experience.
We grieve for many reasons and not only when someone dies. Loss of any kind—a relationship, job, self-image, health status, security or a dream —can cause us to grieve. I’m curious if much of the anger and aggression prevalent in today’s world stems from grief arising from the many loses experienced societally during the pandemic.
November is grief awareness month for the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association, culminating with National Grief and Bereavement Day on Nov. 15.
Through volunteering with Central Okanagan Hospice Association, and working as a palliative-care nurse and minister, I’ve learned the more understanding we have about grief, the better support we are for ourselves and others.
While we all experience many losses in life causing us to grieve, the grief process often remains a mystery. Learning about grief and how it presents is so helpful. When some of the lesser-known faces of grief show up, it can be confusing, isolating and frightening. Fear only adds complexity.
There’s no prescribed, predictable path of grief. It’s not a neat-and-tidy sequential process. Grief often hits us out of the blue, taking us by surprise. It doesn’t have a predictable time-line and it’s unique to each person, experienced differently each time we experience a loss.
Grief isn’t just an emotion of sadness, and it affects us on every level: physical, mental, and emotional.
Physically, grief may present as:
• Poor appetite
• Digestive issues
• Breathing challenges, feels like a weight on our chest
• Sleep challenges
• Exhaustion; grief takes a huge amount of our energy.
As a nurse, I caution people to see their physician if those symptoms persist.
Mentally, grief can cause:
• Inability to concentrate
• Poor memory
• Impaired decision-making
When my dad died, I couldn’t remember how to log into a computer I’d used thousands of times or turn on my stove. It was scary and frustrating. I’ve met many grieving people who’re afraid they’re losing their minds. They are not, they’re just grieving.
Sadness isn’t the only emotion felt after a loss. Emotionally, grief may appear as:
• Numbness, feeling remote and detached
• Mood swings
• Anger and irritability.
I’ve seen families blown apart when grief shows up as anger. Just when we need to come together and support one another, people feel isolated and alone. When anger’s felt toward a loved one who passed, guilt may arise. Guilt only complicates matters.
These lists of some of the many faces of grief are not comprehensive, but offer information showing it’s not a predictable, cookie-cutter process. It’s often messy and unpredictable and we need support.
Cultures in which grieving folks wear certain attire for periods of time after a loss may be on to something. Space is made for them in their process and they’re held in understanding and compassion.
Following a loss it’s best, if possible, to put off making major decisions until the ability to think more clearly returns. Be patient with yourself and one another. Even people close to us can feel awkward and avoid contact. They don’t know what to say or do to help, so they may stay away or offer empty, sometimes annoying platitudes. That can lead to loneliness, disappointment and fractured relationships.
Each person has different needs as they grieve. Let people know what you need and how they can help. People often want to help but are unsure of what they can do. They can’t fix what’s happened but they can be present. Helpful presence is a gift.
Eat, sleep and exercise as best you can. We love to stay busy to avoid our painful feelings. In this busy world with so many demands, don’t overbook yourself, and allow some flexibility in your routine, and let others help you. Finding a balance between being social and taking time for yourself is important.
If you need to cry, then allow yourself this release with no need to apologize. And, when those big, hard feelings come upon you like a wave, remember to breathe and be present with yourself.
Even though grief is not a sexy topic of conversation, I’m finding people want to learn about it and talk about it. I see them visibly relax as they learn they are normal in their grief, whatever normal is.
We are truly blessed within Kelowna to have the Central Okanagan Hospice Association. I can’t say enough about the good it does in our community. It offers programs and support for people needing support with grief.
No one should have to die or grieve alone. Please know help is available.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.