Losing a cherished friend or family member can throw our lives into tumult. This is especially true if the death was sudden or the deceased young, but we also mourn those we have had a chance to grow close with over decades.
We often hear that everyone grieves in their own way. This is true, but it can make it confusing to know when we might benefit from talking to a professional about our feelings. Let’s talk about the grieving process to understand how to examine our thoughts and emotions.
The grieving process
We should not let others influence how we choose to grieve as long as we are being honest with ourselves. Some people are very demonstrative when in mourning, others more stoic. Some choose only to be fully vulnerable with a close friend, intimate partner, or clergy member.
One person may throw herself into the logistics of funeral preparations and cleaning out the deceased person’s house. Another may choose to delegate these tasks.
Some people appear to mourn for a year, a month, a day, or not at all. It is important to remember that a person may be grieving in unseen ways.
If you are concerned that someone you know is grieving in an unhealthy way, it is a good idea to check in with them in the weeks after the funeral, once the initial flurry of activity has quieted and the sympathy cards have stopped arriving. Many people find the enormity of their loss hits them once they have a chance to miss the deceased person day to day.
You might ask the person in mourning to take part in a shared activity or listen if they want to reminisce about the person who has passed. You may choose to ask how they have been doing, but understand they may not want to share all the details with you.
Feelings associated with grief
Grief can include feelings of anger, guilt, even relief. People experience a range of emotions in different orders and over different periods of time.
Sometimes after people die, their survivors try to imagine a story of their relationship with the deceased. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. It can also lead to frustrating or confusing feelings if the two people had a complicated or nuanced relationship, or one with many ups and downs. The other person may have died before providing certain closure.
It can be helpful to talk to someone about this story and what to make of it. It gets to the heart of what the relationship meant to each person. A trusted friend or a therapist can be a good sounding board for people trying to understand exactly what the other person meant to them, and what they meant to the deceased.
If you find yourself obsessing over a particular incident or emotion from the past, a therapist may be able to provide the best help. The same is true if these thoughts bring up strong feelings such as rage or shame. A counselor can help you examine these memories objectively to determine why they affect you so deeply.
A counselor can also help with feelings that may become obsessive or destructive.
It is normal to feel sad, even despondent, when a loved one dies. Anxiety about the future is natural. However, if weeks and months pass and those feelings are still impeding your ability to spend time with friends and family, work, or pursue your hobbies, that may be a sign that grief has transitioned to depression.
This is nothing to be embarrassed about. Depression is a common mood disorder but one which can be managed with medication and counseling. In therapy, you can learn healthy, productive habits and have an opportunity to understand your patterns of thinking. Many people learn how to grieve respectively over the long-term while taking pleasure in life again.
Grief among children and adolescents
Children and adolescents often surprise adults by the maturity they show in mourning. Sometimes, though, they try to put on a brave face and can be difficult to read or slow to open up.
It’s a good idea to watch their behavior, if their eating and sleeping schedules change, if their schoolwork suffers, if they become withdrawn or engage in riskier behavior. All could be a sign they need someone to talk to, and if it isn’t a family member, a counselor can be a good listener.
Keep in mind that children may not have much experience with death and may be more strongly affected by death of a person they did not know well.
For example, a child may have a strong reaction to the death of a classmate, even if they were not especially friendly. Their grief could well be stronger than an adult who loses a coworker they occasionally interacted with.
The MindSol Wellness Center offers grief counseling in Sarasota, FL
While most grief counseling centers on the death of a loved one, people also grieve the loss of pregnancies, pets, relationships, and jobs. If you would like help processing your grief, contact the MindSol Wellness Center at (941) 256-3725. We serve youths and adults of all ages and faiths.