The Emotions of Grief

By: Nancy Hancock
Monday, April 1, 2019

THE EMOTIONS OF GRIEF

The James Reid Funeral Home

Bereavement Support Program

April 1, 2019       

Nancy A. Hancock

 

Listen to this quote by an unknown author:

“Grief never ends…But it changes. 

It’s a passage, not a place to stay.

Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith.

It is the price of love.”

 

You are here tonight because you are grieving the loss of someone who was important to you.  The time and space of losing a person dear to you is a time of surging feelings and disorganization, not unlike the time and space of falling in love.  In bereavement the heart moves first, not the head.  You are different somehow, and you don’t have the control you thought you did over your emotions.

Take a piece of paper and take a few moments to write down the various emotions and feelings you have experienced since the death of your loved one.  There are no right or wrong answers, so just quickly brainstorm the feelings you’ve had.  When you are finished or can’t think of anymore, please circle the one emotion which has been the most difficult one for you to cope with.   (3-5 min.)

Grief is like a tangled web of emotions, all mixed up together.

All of your feelings are completely normal, and in fact, most are universal to bereaved people.  It is important to allow yourself to feel all the feelings you are experiencing, and not to deny or hide that you are feeling this way, not to yourself or others.  The loss of a loved one is one of the most painful thing you will ever go through.  It can feel like a deep heartache, affecting us physical, emotionally, and spiritually.  However painful, grief has a purpose:  to allow us to reconstruct our lives after a major loss.  In this regard, Dr. Bill Webster of the Centre for the Grief Journey offers these words:

You cannot choose your feelings.  They choose you. The purpose of a grief process is to enable us to come to terms with our lost hopes and open our eyes to new ones. Such is the hard work of grief.

One of the earliest emotions many people experience soon after their loved one died or when they first learn of the death, is anxiety.

 

ANXIETY

Anxiety is an intense stress response to the shock of our loved one’s dying.  It may be a sudden fear, trembling, and dizziness.  There are real physical symptoms, where you feel like you can’t breathe and your heart is racing.  It is similar to a panic attack in which you experience a “flight or fight” response, caused by the release of the hormone cortisol.  You want to escape the reality of the death, but you can’t.  The initial anxiety usually subsides, only to return at unexpected times, when you are faced again with the realization of your loss.  It is similar to the separation anxiety a baby experiences when it can no longer see its primary caregiver.  We are attached to those we love, and when faced with the reality of their death, this triggers the memory of that primal bond which a baby feels and the panic of losing the physical presence of the loved one.

Anxiety has physical symptoms:  what are some that you experienced during moments of anxiety?

muscle tension (shoulders, neck, jaw, all over)

difficulty sleeping (unable to relax)

sense of fear or panic: of being alone, the future, finances

difficulty concentrating

GI difficulties: vomiting, diarrhea, can’t eat

Uncontrolled worries

Feeling out of control

 

What are some ways you coped with anxiety or panic attacks?

moaning or wailing

physical movement or exercise

drink water

slow your breathing, slowly inhale, slowly exhale

Anxiety which goes on for more than a few weeks can be detrimental to your health, so seek medical help.

 

ANGER

Anger is another very common emotion of grief.  Death has taken your loved one from you.  Of course you will feel some anger.  If anxiety is the desire to flee soon after the death, anger is the “fight” response:  it is the real or imagined sense of threat when the foundations of your life feel as though they are gone and your sense of security has been lost.

Many people try to hide or suppress anger throughout their lives due to being taught that it is a bad emotion to express.  For that reason, we may feel that we can’t talk about or express anger, especially with others.  However,nhiding the anger we feel causes it to fester inside us and come out in destructive ways.  What are some unhealthy ways we use to express or suppress  the anger we feel?

lashing out at others, pushing them away
drinking too much;
self-harm
risky behaviors:  ie. reckless driving

If you felt some degree of anger in your grief, to whom  or what was your anger directed at?

medical professionals
your loved one who died
God: how could a good God allow this to happen?
Friends and relatives who say things like, “he’s better off now”, or “I know how you feel”, or “you’ll get married again”.
Anger at the change in your role and life plans
The rest of the world for going on with their lives
Yourself, for what you did or did not do or say

How did you handle your anger?

Express or repress?
Yelling at others
Irritable or sullen
Slam doors, throw things
Excessive substance use

Remember that it is normal to be angry, and it is normal not to be angry also.  Everyone’s grief is individual. 

Healthier ways to express your anger:

talk it out with someone you trust can handle your anger
physical activity:  pound a pillow; yell at the “empty chair”
run or take a brisk walk, shovel snow or dig in the garden
write a letter to whom you are angry but don’t send it
read the Psalms of Lament in the Bible.  The writers were often angry at God and expressed that
make bread:  knead and pound the dough vigorously
build something (hammering)
join a grief support group to share your anger in a safe place
don’t hold back tears
bang on a drum or play the piano
breathe deeply and count to ten before taking your anger out on someone

 

DEPRESSION

Most people feel a deep sadness after the death of a loved one.  You feel the finality of the person’s loss and miss their physical presence with you intensely.  For some, their sadness may develop into a lingering depression.  Depression can be experienced as the loss of meaning in your life.  You may think, why get up in the morning; why make dinner; why take a shower?   These daily tasks take a monumental amount of emotional and physical energy.  Depression is sometimes called “anger turned inwards”.  As discussed before the break, when we feel that for whatever reason, we cannot admit to or express our anger around the death, our anger festers inside of us, and can turn into a state of depression. 

The normal feeling of depression is to be expected when you have lost someone very dear to you.  It expresses itself in bouts of uncontrolled tears, feelings of the loss of control, emptiness, and low energy with lack of motivation.

Let the tears out.  Reach out to your loved ones and share your suffering with them.  Anxiety often accompanies depression and this too is normal. The overwhelming sadness comes in waves.  You might feel a bit better one day and be plunged into despair the next.

However, if and when you can no longer cry and you begin to withdraw into yourself, or if you have a history of depression, you may have developed a clinical depression.  This condition needs to be diagnosed by a doctor and is characterized by distinct symptoms such as:

mood swings
inability to feel any pleasure
changes in appetite and sleep habits
extreme lack of energy
hopelessness
lack of care of personal hygiene

suicidal thoughts with a plan

These symptoms go beyond the feelings of sadness and low mood which are normal in people who are grieving a significant loss.  They are prolonged and go on for weeks without any breaks. Clinical depression is a medical condition and therefore needs treatment  from a medical professional.  Do not hesitate to get this help, especially if you have been diagnosed with depression in the past.

 

WAYS TO MANAGE THE DEPRESSION THAT COMES WITH GRIEF:

find someone you can talk and share your feelings with, perhaps someone who has gone through grief
limit your intake of caffeine, candy, and junk food; eat regular balanced meals
maintain healthy sleep hygiene
drink lots of water
practice relaxation: reading; hobbies; therapeutic or relaxation massage; meditation
dark chocolate:proven to have mood-elevating ingredients and antioxidants

What do you find helpful when you are depressed?

 

Let me introduce you to the ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION KIT:

Candle:  to keep and cherish the flame of your memories
Match:  to light the candle; to remember to relight your own flame when you are depleted with grief
Dark chocolate:  to boost your mood
Herbal tea:  to take time to slow down, rest, and relax
Rubber band:  to be flexible but not stretch beyond your limit
Pencil:  to list your blessings, and an eraser on the end to remind you to erase the damaging thoughts
Small stones:  to remind you not to let the little annoyances get to you.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

Make your own GRIEF KIT, with all the things which help to remind you that “this too shall pass”.

Remember that, when we are open and active mourners, the physical and emotional symptoms get better.When all our feelings get bottled up, our bodies start expressing our grief for us.

 

Enjoy the small moments of joy which you will start to experience, even in your grief. Relish them.

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