Few things in life are as misunderstood as grief – not only is it immensely personal and often complicated by several factors, but everyone’s response to grief is also likely to be different. Factor in that bereaved people pressure themselves to ‘get over’ their loss and move on with life (only to discover that grief does not flow in a smooth, linear fashion), and you’re looking at a reality that affects us all, but isn’t addressed nearly enough.
“The natural reaction that a person has to loss, grief involves the emotional as well as the physical, cognitive, behavioural, and spiritual responses to loss,” says Ronette Anna Zaaiman, a Clinical Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia. The community mental health and wellness institution houses Raymee Grief Center that’s run by expert clinicians and grief specialists, and offers free-of-charge services to both individuals and groups. Here, Zaaiman delves into how this grief support centre can help you cope with loss and what we all should know about the always painful – and often confusing – grieving process.
Grief brings with it both physical and emotional symptoms.
“Common physical reactions to grief include a hollow feeling in your stomach, tightness or heaviness in your chest or throat, increased sensitivity to stimuli such as noises or bright lights, decreased energy, and breathlessness as well as nausea and digestive problems. The most common emotional reactions, meanwhile, are sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, helplessness, loneliness, shock, relief, and numbness.”
There are many misconceptions around grief.
“Grief within itself exists in a paradox of being something we will all experience in our life, yet being something that we know little about and avoid speaking of. As a result, individuals often find themselves confused and overwhelmed in their experiences of grief. Although nothing can truly prepare us for grieving the loss of a loved one as everyone’s journey through grief looks different, misconceptions can leave us feeling isolated and like we’re completely losing ourselves to grief. One of the misconceptions is that acceptance is the final stage of grief – we often consider ‘acceptance’ as an indication that we’ve ‘moved on’. This view can invalidate our grief process, and overly simplifies the impact of the loss on our lives. Rather than acceptance, adjustment and learning to live alongside our grief becomes our goal.
Another misconception is that being ‘strong’ means overcoming your grief. Oftentimes, individuals do not allow themselves to feel the emotions and process the thoughts that come about as a result of grief. Messages we may have been taught growing up – that we ‘must be strong’ – result in these feelings often being equated with ‘being weak’. This view can greatly invalidate and hinder one’s grief journey. There is immense strength in creating space for yourself and honouring the feelings that come with grief. Lastly, it’s untrue that grieving someone always involves deep sadness and crying; grief is as unique as a fingerprint and each person’s experience is different. Some may cry, others may not. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”
There are ways to cope effectively with your pain.
“Have realistic expectations of yourself. Give yourself grace in this unpredictable process. There will be moments that you feel good, and moments that are particularly hard – give yourself permission to feel everything you feel. When we do not allow our feelings, they will find different avenues of expression, such as through tension in our shoulders, headaches, or even anxiety, depression, and physical health problems. Have healthy outlets for your emotions instead.
This may involve sharing with a trusted friend or family member, writing in a journal, prayer, meditation, crying, joining a grief support group, or individual psychotherapy. It’s also vital to take care of your physical health. When grief-stricken, it may be difficult to maintain everyday healthy routines around eating, sleeping, and exercise. Try to ensure that you eat regular healthy meals, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and engage with some physical movement each day. Avoid using substances such as alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.”
The five stages of grief are often misunderstood.
“The five stages of grief, as developed by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, has been very helpful in opening up the conversation about grief. This theory, which predominantly focuses on patients with a terminal illness, may be misleading in giving the impression of a chronological order and a particular endpoint to grieving the loss of a loved one.
Meanwhile, William Worden has proposed four tasks of grieving, which is helpful in giving grievers a sense of what they may expect to experience going forward and involves ‘tasks’ – something that can guide them in engaging with their own grief journey. In this theory, it is also emphasised that these tasks can co-exist, and one may move back and forth between negotiating them. They are: having to come to terms with the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain of grief, adjusting to an environment with the deceased missing, and finding an enduring connection with the deceased whilst embarking on a new life.”
Grief does not have a timeline.
“We do not forget or ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one. Grief does change form over time, though – the intensity of the feelings and the frequency of big grief waves tend to decrease with time. The depths of our grief is an expression of the depth of our love. It is through honouring our grief and the multitude of emotions we feel that we can facilitate our own healing.”
Raymee Grief Center provides plenty of support.
“We are honoured to offer a range of free-of-cost grief support groups for the community. We also offer a one-off individual grief consultation session that’s free of charge and serves as a gateway to our grief support groups. The grief support groups we offer include the Motherless Daughters, Partner Loss, Little Lifetimes, Surviving After Loss to Suicide, and Adult Grief Support Group. Most of these services are currently offered online. If you are interested, please contact us by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 04 380 2088. We believe no one needs to grieve alone. We are here to help.”