Shockwaves of grief are rippling though our society, yet many are unaware of what’s really going on inside.
We may not recognize grief’s many faces because they don’t always appear as emotions of sadness. It can be confusing, and knowing how to help ourselves and one another is essential.
While it’s counter-cultural to speak about grief, it’s necessary and it supports our healing. With collective grief growing, bringing the subject of grief into awareness and conversation is more important now than ever.
During the pandemic, grief following loss was often experienced in isolation, as the customary ways of gathering and ceremony weren’t possible. The ability to give and receive support was absent or limited, leaving both the bereaved and those who care for them without necessary support.
It’s healing to gather to care for one another in the face of loss. Many people’s suffering was amplified as grieving people were alone following the death of a loved one.
But grief is not reserved for death alone. Grief, commonly expected following the loss of a loved-one, is a universal human response to loss of any kind, not just death.
We also grieve when our safety, security, health, employment, homes, hopes and dreams have been threatened, as we experienced through the pandemic and the recent fires that have been raging through our city. Grief arising from losses separate from death are often unacknowledged and unsupported.
Kelowna General Hospital’s Spiritual Advisory Team is keenly aware of the collective grief present in society and wants to raise conversation and offer support to those who are grieving. Grief doesn’t have a time-line lasting only weeks following a loss, but often lives on inside of us for months or years following a loss.
The faces of grief often look unlike what we commonly expect. Grief does not only presents itself as an emotion of sadness, affecting every level of our being. We may think we’re losing our minds when our mental capacity is affected by grief or when we feel more irritable.
It’s human to try to divert ourselves from acknowledging grief by trying to stay busy to avoid it, or out-run the uncomfortable and confusing feelings that arise. While staying busy may help for a while, our feelings of grief remain under the surface.
Grief isn’t just an emotion of sadness. Grief affects us on every level—physical, mental, and emotional. As a nurse, I caution people to see their nurse-practitioner or physician if symptoms persist.
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.
• Inability to concentrate
• Poor memory
• Impaired decision-making
Sadness isn’t the only emotion felt after a loss. Emotionally, grief may appear as:
• Anger and irritability
• Numbness; feeling remote and detached
• Mood swings
Fear often arises when some of the lesser-known faces of grief are present, making matters worse. We may think we’re losing our minds when we can’t think, or wonder what’s wrong with us because we’re cranky or irritable. Understanding the source of our discomfort and learning how to help ourselves is much more healing than trying to manage the symptoms of grief.
These lists of some of the many faces of grief are not comprehensive, but offer information that it’s not a predictable, cookie-cutter process. While there are universal features of grief, it’s often messy and unpredictable and we need support.
The KGH Spiritual Advisory Team is bringing the topic of grief into public awareness at the Walk of Memories at Waterfront Park (starting at the Dolphins sculpture) on Sunday, Sept. 24, starting at 2 p.m, and is offering support. This special day is free and concludes with a closing ceremony with music, refreshments and an informative talk by local grief expert, Clair Jantzen.
The KGH Walk of Memories is a free, interactive, ceremonial walk through four-stations along the waterfront in a supportive, caring atmosphere. Participants are invited to stop and reflect on their loss while remembering the legacy remaining.
Taking time to pause, acknowledging our loss, and receiving support is essential. Gathering and having others bear-witness with caring presence supports us on our journey with grief. Learning more about grief and its many faces is empowering and supports healing.
Every one of us can benefit from attending this event.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.