"My heart aches." "It's too much to bear." "I don't know how I'll get through this." These are statements frequently made by someone grieving a loss or death. Maybe these ring true for you. Grief can bring on devastatingly painful emotions. So much so that you might wonder if you're "going crazy." No, you're not crazy – you're grieving. Grief is the normal response to the loss of anything or anyone important in your life.
Understanding the feelings and symptoms of grief are important to healing. You can try to avoid the emotions associated with a loss but doing so does not make them go away. In fact, ungrieved losses may show up later in ways you don't recognize and they may also be destructive. The better choice is to allow the experience to happen. Be real about how you feel. Grief is not something you want to go around; it's something you want to allow to go through you.
Even though we think of grief as primarily an emotional experience, it impacts us broadly. Our minds and bodies are challenged physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually.
Here are common reactions to grief:
Physical Reactions to Grief
Early on in grief, there may be memory loss, confusion, disorientation, and a shortened attention span. You may notice physical changes such as exhaustion, racing heart, trembling, trouble breathing, nausea, and dry mouth. Some people have headaches, rashes, and elevated blood pressure. There may also be pain in your chest, stomach, throat and arm.
Emotional Reactions to Grief
After a loss, the most notable reaction is sadness. You may also feel numb, lonely, and empty. Don't be surprised if you get angry. Angry feelings may be directed at the hospital, at the doctors, and maybe even the deceased. Another common reaction is guilt. You might go through what's called the "if onlys." If only I had not said that or if only I had done this. Feelings of anxiety may set in due to the fear of the unknown. Further, it's normal to feel relief if your loved one suffered before death. Similarly, you might also be comforted by the fact that your loved one did not suffer prior to death.
Behavioral Reactions to Grief
The behavior most recognized is crying. Crying is a natural and healing way to express pain. Grief can disrupt your sleep. You may have interrupted sleep or find it hard to fall asleep. There may also be disturbing dreams. It might seem as if no one understands what you're going through, which could result in you withdrawing from those around you. Aggressiveness, absent-mindedness, and a lack of desire to participate in activities that you once enjoyed may occur. You may also find it difficult to keep still so you're busy all the time. Panic attacks may manifest. Compulsive behaviors such as smoking, sex, drinking, eating, and spending may also show up.
Spiritual Reactions to Grief
Many people experience a spiritual crisis after a loss. Questions asked might include, "What did I do to deserve this?" "Why is God punishing me?" Your long-held beliefs are challenged and you start to question your faith and may even become angry at God.
Be Kind to Yourself
Many factors will shape your journey through grief. As best you can, pay attention to how you're responding to the loss. Even though loss is universal, how we experience grief is unique to us. Getting through it can be a slow and daunting process. It requires patience and it also requires that you be kind to yourself. Hopefully you will find comfort in knowing that, yes, loss is forever, but the all-consuming grief is temporary.
This is, by no means, an all-encompassing list of grief reactions. Please feel free to share how you've reacted to or witnessed a devastating loss.