Having an understanding of grief and loss may help your mental health.
“Grief is like an ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison.
“Sometimes it hurts, it hurts so much that it feels like your chest will cave in, and the only thing stopping it are the gasps of air you take in between tears” – Author Unknown.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” – C.S Lewis
There are so many quotes that try to summarize what grief feels like. But the truth is, grief is a journey or process that feels and looks different to everyone that experiences it. And, everyone can experience grief- no matter the age. People that are working through grief, often feel like it is a lonely experience that threatens a person’s sense of control, safety and mastery.
Grief is a natural emotional response, there are three different forms of grief; Anticipatory Grief, Disenfranchised Grief and Complicated Grief. In this topic page we will walk through each of these and talk about how grief can look different depending on age.
Types of Grief
This form of grief is a response to a known change or transition that is going to occur that encompasses a form of loss with it. Some examples of anticipatory grief are; if a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, transition away from a teacher to another, impending loss of a pet.
This form of grief is felt when it is not recognised by others or not acknowledged by any public ceremony. Some examples of this may be; when sexual, physical, rape is experienced, when a dream is unrealised, infertility, miscarriage, teenagers experiencing a break up, break up of families particularly affecting children.
This form of grief is feelings of loss that do not improve over time or cannot be expressed at the time of the loss and it is repressed. Children are good at putting their feelings on hold because they are sensitive to their environment. Some examples of this form of grief are; death of a child (including miscarriage), social isolation or loss of a support system, an unexpected violent death, migrating seeking refuge to a different country, traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect, financial hardships, past history of anxiety, depression or PTSD.
Reactions to Grief and Loss
When experiencing grief it can feel like a whirlwind of emotions. Normal feelings when grieving are;
- Anxiety and fear
Normal Grief Behaviours:
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite disturbances
- Absent-minded behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Dreams of the deceased
- Searching and calling out
- Restless over activity
- Visiting places or carrying objects that remind the survivor
- Treasuring objects that belonged to the deceased
How does adult grief differ from a child’s grief?
- Language- adult more likely to label their emotions
- Internal resources
- Other relationships
- Understanding of the world
- Loss of attachment figure
- Adults attitudes to children
- Children express emotions through behaviour and body
10 ways to help a child who is grieving:
- Tell the child about the death as soon as possible
- Be honest and straightforward
- Stick to the ‘normal’ routine as much as possible
- Allow the child to participate in activities relating to the death
- Talk about the person who died
- Talk to the child about spiritual beliefs
- Encourage the child to create memories
- Allow the child to grieve in their own individual way
- Encourage the child to speak with others
- Look for signs that further help is required
Sometimes grief is too much and additional support is needed to not feel like you are drowning.
Grief can often make you want to withdraw from friends, family, work and activities that you enjoy. However, having face-to-face support can be crucial for the healing process. It can be hard to express grief feelings when you are feeling them, but it is important to express them when you are grieving.
By expressing feelings, it can feel like a load off your back and can make life a little bit easier. However, it does not mean that every time you interact with family, friends or acquaintances you need to talk about your loss. Comfort can also come from just being around people you care about and treasure. The overarching message is to not isolate yourself.
Friends and Family
Sometimes it is hard to let people in when all you want to do is be alone or you’re telling yourself that “I am fine”, but this is the time to let people help you and lean on them for love and support. Communicate what you need from people whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or just someone to hang out with.
Acceptance of People’s Awkwardness
Friends, family members, acquaintances may want to help but don’t know how. Often they might be focusing on what the right thing to say is, scared of saying the wrong thing and upsetting you. But, it is important to remember that they have reached out because they care.
Following your Faith Rituals
If you follow a faith, following rituals, embracing the mourning process, going to church, meditating and praying can all offer comfort.
Talk to a Counsellor
Not everyone that goes through grief needs to seek therapy to process it. However, sometimes for some people, grief can feel too overwhelming and painful. Seeking additional support; counselling, can help you walk through, process the grief and difficult emotions that it brings.
A critical lesson to understanding grief and loss are to acknowledge everyone is different and there is always help out there. If you feel you may like to discuss this with someone, please contact us.
Author: Larissa Watter, BA Counselling.
Larissa Watter is a Brisbane counsellor, passionate about working with children. She is currently furthering her studies by undertaking a Certificate in Child Centred Play Therapy.
To make an appointment with Larissa Watter try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.