As the seasons change and our environment is preparing for spring, I am reminded how quickly the world around us can change. When you lose someone close to you, your life changes immediately. The feelings of grief and bereavement you experience can be devastating and frightening. Grief is an individual process one must learn to cope with in his or her own way.
According to “Moving Through the Stages of Grief” (www.emedicinehealth.com), there are four basic stages of grief: shock/disbelief, awareness, depression and reconciliation/acceptance.
During the shock stage, a person may experience numbness, denial, disbelief and some confusion. One may appear to intellectualize the loss rather than express one’s feelings. As the shock wears off, the person moves into the “awareness stage.” This stage occurs two to four weeks after the death of a loved one and generally lasts three to four months. It takes time to fully absorb the impact of a major loss and symptoms may include anger, fear and guilt. Experiencing symptoms of depression also is a normal part of the grieving process and is a psychological expression of grief. Grief is likely to be expressed physically (weight loss/difficulty sleeping/loss of appetite), emotionally (difficulty making decisions) and psychologically (depression/anxiety).
After that first year, reconciliation and acceptance will begin to occur. Healing takes time and the best thing you can do is be patient with and kind to yourself. Take care of yourself, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, stay with a daily routine, and seek out caring people who will allow you to express your grief and talk about your loved one. Remember, not all people are able to tolerate the expression of painful feelings; choose a listener wisely.
If you have continued difficulty sleeping, substantial weight loss or weight gain, prolonged emotional stress or are overcome with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The following individuals can be contacted for support and counseling: your family physician, minister, grief counselor, social worker, psychologist or mental health professional. Attending a support group can be beneficial as well. Support groups serve a unique function. You learn you are not alone, that the grieving process is normal and you can learn and share what helps with others.
The Village at Penn State Life Care Retirement Community, 260 Lions Hill Road, State College, will sponsor a free, eight-session, grief support group from 3:30-5 p.m. Thursdays beginning April 10. Anyone who has lost a spouse or significant other is welcome to learn about living and coping after the loss of a loved one. Contact Kimberly McGinnis at 235-8925 if you are interested in attending.
Brenda Oyler Kim is a licensed clinical social worker in the Centre Region.