Most people have an idea about the sort of thoughts and feelings we commonly experience after the death of someone we love; however, nothing can prepare us for the confusion and intensity of grief.
Some of the most common signs of grief include:
- memory loss
- can't stop thinking
- sense of meaninglessness
- disturbed appetite
- disturbed sex-drive
- disturbed sleep
- social withdrawal
- risk taking
- vivid dreams
- guilt and self-blame
Everyone grieves differently
There is no right or wrong way to express loss. In many cases, people will find their ability to undertake major tasks, like getting to work, is severely limited for a number of weeks. Even when they begin to feel able to function on that level, many people continue to feel a deep sense of anger and meaninglessness. They are coping on the outside, but feeling on the inside that they are still in pieces.
Grief is normal
Many people worry that the pain and distress they are suffering following a death is in some way unusual or a sign of deeper problems. As the list above shows, the range of grief signs is very broad and very different to our day-to-day experience of life. Bereavement is difficult enough; it is important not to confuse normal healthy grief for something more troubling. There is no way to speed up the grieving process and no healthy way to make you feel better. These days we think about any sort of discomfort as a problem that needs to be fixed. Grief isn't like that.
People often go through long periods when they can't feel anything emotionally. This feeling of emotional numbness can re-occur for months. This is part of grief—the feeling of not feeling is a normal experience for many people, particularly after a sudden death. It does not mean you aren't grieving.
Grief has no end date
There is no easy way to tell if grief is going too quickly or too slowly, and it's not possible to say at exactly what point you should notice a consistent improvement.
The first few days
Shock, disbelief and confusion can last for the first couple of weeks. In this period people are slowly registering the enormity of what has happened. Often the funeral is the point at which people being to emerge from the shock and start to feel and believe that the death is real.
Once the shock has passed
At this point, people often begin to experience the emotional impact of the death. This is a time of mood swings and deep distress. The sadness and anguish of loss, as well as the feelings that life is meaningless and lonely are often very strong in this period. For many people it gets most difficult at about three to four months after the person they love has died.
People start to recognise that they will not spend the rest of their lives feeling as bad as they have for the last four to five months. From around this point people start to notice gradual change. They find themselves able to think a little more about the future and slowly begin to feel more connected with day to day events. Feelings of sadness and emptiness are always near to the surface and this period is still one with many challenges. The clearest way to put it would be to say that this is a time of ups and downs: hours or days when people feel fine, only to suddenly find themselves feeling as distressed as they were in the very early stages of grief.
The first anniversary
The period of ups and downs generally continues until after the first anniversary of the death. People often find the weeks leading up to the anniversary to be very difficult. They notice they are becoming increasingly edgy and distressed and that they are thinking more and more about the deceased person. For many people, this is a turning point. In the weeks after the anniversary, the ups start lasting longer and the downs, while they still happen, are not as devastating as they had been, and tend to pass more quickly.
Grief doesn't disappear. The deep pain eases and people start to once again find happiness in their lives, but even many years later, there are down times—particularly on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.
Different things affect people differently
It's important to remember that there are many different things that can affect how we grieve. These include:
- cultural background and religious beliefs
- past experiences
- relationship with the person who has died
- the way the person died.
Other factors are less obvious but can still have a major impact on how grief is experienced and expressed, including whether or not you are working and your financial situation, your general state of health and the types of support available to you.
Coronial Family Services can provide advice and information about bereavement counselling services for family members of persons whose deaths are being, or have been, investigated by a Queensland coroner.
Please call +61 7 3096 2794 or 1800 449 171 Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm or email FSS.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other services you can contact for support include: