Part 1: What is Normal Grief?
Losing someone we love is excruciating. When we lose someone to death, whether suddenly or slowly (as in a medical condition for which there is no cure or a cure that didn’t work), we experience a period of grief. Grieving is normal – it is a time of coming to terms with our loss and learning to move on without the loved one. There are several feelings that occur in normal grief – either at once, or at various stages during the grieving process. Sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, self-reproach, loneliness, helplessness, shock, yearning, relief, and numbness are all normal and are a part of the grieving process.
Sadness needs no explanation, although sometimes people feel sad without being able to express it and this can cause friction in a relationship. When the loss is sudden, there can be shock and disbelief. But a loss may also occur after an extended illness.
Anger can show up when it is least expected – in reaction to the loss of a loved one. A parent who loses a child, for example, can become angry because they believe that children are supposed to live longer than their parents. Anger can also occur when there is a feeling of helplessness – where there was nothing the surviving person could have done to save their loved one. And there is anger toward God: Why did he allow this to happen? When anger is turned inward, it becomes depression, and the person could become suicidal. Intervention is called for in these cases.
When a loss occurs, the surviving member may feel that he/she cannot live without the deceased person, and this can create anxiety over the future. The bereaved may also recognize their own mortality, which results in fear for themselves. Anxiety takes many forms, ranging from some insecurity to complete panic attacks. After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis said: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid.”
There is often guilt after the death of a loved one. “I should have done something sooner,” “I didn’t recognize how sick she was,” or even, “Why wasn’t I kinder to him?” can make a person feel guilty. But, given time, guilt and self-reproach will pass.
Exhaustion and Helplessness
Sometimes survivors experience great tiredness, such as not being able to get out of bed, or feeling exhausted all the time. They may also find themselves unable to feel anything, which is described as an inability to feel anything. And there may be a sense of helplessness as well, which often goes hand in hand with anxiety at not being able to handle the present and the future without the loved one.
The grieving process can also result in physical symptoms and changes in behavior. Disturbed sleep, lack of appetite, loss of interest in social activities, over activity, crying, and holding onto mementos of the lost one can all be part of the normal grieving process.
Grief and Depression
Although grief and depression are not the same, grief can turn into depression, especially in those people susceptible to it. Grief makes the world feel empty and flat, while depression makes the person feel that way. God can seem far away and you may begin to doubt that He even exists.
Christian Counseling in the Grieving Process
If you feel that you are not coping with the loss in your life, there is help. If you find that you are beating yourself up over things that were beyond your ability to control, or that your grief is turning inward, EMDR therapy can help. You don’t have to suffer. It can also help to talk to someone who can help you to distinguish between normal grief and depression, and can help to alleviate some of the emotions you experience.
“It’s kinda like . . .” courtesy of TORLEY, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Morning in Bac Son Valley” courtesy of Hoang Giang Hai, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)