One of the biggest stressors in anyone’s lifetime is the death of somebody close. Intellectually we know that everyone dies, but day-to-day, we mostly don’t think about it. So, particularly with a sudden, unexpected death, we are jolted into confronting mortality, and the irrevocable loss of a person we love.
It can be surprising how physical reactions to grief can be. You may be unable to sleep, you may lose your appetite, you may feel turbo-charged by adrenalin. You may ‘go to pieces’, or find yourself being incredibly strong, supporting others and organising everything, only to wonder later who is supporting you. You might feel disconnected from your emotions, or you might find random and unexpected emotions bubble up, such as the impulse to laugh at inappropriate times. You are not going mad, nor are you weird or heartless. You are human, and these are all common responses to grief.
Bereaved people are often operating in shocked survival mode so please remember to be kind to yourself, not to harshly judge your own reactions, feelings or lack of them. You’ll also need to be extra conscious of looking after yourself – it’s easy to neglect your own wellbeing, particularly if you are caring for and comforting family members.
Grieving needs time, and although we might be tempted to push it aside because it’s too painful, that may just defer the emotional processing for later. Aside from the supports you may already have within whanau/work/friendship/faith groups, at some point you may want to find some extra support. Your GP may be helpful, and the Grief Centre runs regular support groups to learn more about grief and grieving, with others who are experiencing it https://www.griefcentre.org.nz. They also have specialist grief counsellors.
It can help to revisit memories of the person who has died in ongoing ways – spending time in places with shared meaning, lighting a candle on significant dates, sharing memories with others who knew them, or making time to sit and remember special times and shared experiences. These can all help in a small way to hold them in your heart as you go forward.
You may also find that in times of grief and loss, many other aspects of life feel more difficult because your resources and emotional resilience are stretched. Parenting and relationships may get challenging, as might your ability to cope with work, household tasks or other responsibilities. Or you may feel ‘stuck’ in the process and want help coping with your feelings. Our family support workers at Homebuilders can help.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s not only death that can leave us with huge feelings of loss. A painful estrangement from a child or parent, a break-up, leaving your homeland and beginning again in an unfamiliar country and culture, being made redundant – these are all major shocks that we often need help to come to terms with. Please reach out.