is a normal process which happens after any major personal loss.
Most obviously it occurs after the death of a loved one, although
something very similar can happen after other kinds of loss. Although
everybody reacts differently to some extent, the feelings that people
go through, and the order in which they experience them tend to
be very similar for most. In abnormal grief, the person does not
go through the normal stages of grieving, but can become stuck at
an early stage, such as disbelief (see below). Some people can also
suffer from Depression following a significant loss. This is, however,
a psychiatric illness, rather than a normal response to loss. Where
the loss has been in very traumatic circumstances, such as if the
bereaved person survived an accident in which a loved one has died,
grieving may be complicated by symptoms of PTSD.
What are the symptoms?
normal grief people go through different stages, usually in a similar
order. These stages are as follows:
after a loss such as the death of someone close, most people feel
almost as if they cannot believe it has happened. They described
feeling stunned or numb. This can actually sometimes be helpful
practically, in that often there are things to do such as telling
people, or organising a funeral, and the feeling of unreality can
help them get through this. However if this feeling of unreality
and numbness goes on too long it can cause problems. Sooner or later
it is necessary to move on to the next stage of grieving. Sometimes
seeing the body of the dead person can be important in letting it
sink in, and also the funeral can be very helpful
next stage of normal grief involves very distressing feelings of
“pining” or “yearning” for the dead person.
A bereaved person can feel very agitated. It is difficult to relax
or concentrate, and often people report disturbing dreams and difficulty
in sleeping. During this stage, some people actually report that
they “see” their loved one, either mistaking someone
for them in the street, or even, when going to sleep or just waking,
having a kind of “vision” of their loved one being present.
This can make them worry that they are maybe getting ill, and can
worry friends and relatives, but it is not an abnormal experience.
this stage people often have very mixed and confusing emotions.
They may feel very angry, for example towards doctors and nurses,
or towards other friends and relatives, and sometimes even towards
the person who has passed away. Another common feeling around this
time is guilt, and people find themselves thinking of things that
they may be left unsaid, or wondering if they could have done more
for the loved one. Sometimes there is actually some relief following
the death, for example if the loved one has suffered from a distressing
illness, and feeling relieved can lead to feeling guilty.
phase of agitation is worst about two weeks after the death, but
is usually soon followed by feelings of quiet sadness and low mood.
The periods of low mood become more frequent and peak at about four
to six weeks after the loss. Spasms of grief can occur later, and
sometimes it is difficult for others to understand when the bereaved
person suddenly becomes upset for no obvious reason.
intense distress of early bereavement does begin to fade eventually,
the low mood lessens and it is possible to think about the future
again, although the sense of loss never goes entirely. The final
phase of grieving is about “letting go” of the person,
and starting a new life. Sometimes people find this stage difficult
and they begin to feel guilty again, almost as if they are betraying
the loved one, for example if they begin to feel cheerful or have
a return of sexual feelings.
from different cultures deal with death in different ways and have
worked out ceremonies for coping with death. The feelings experienced
by bereaved people in different cultures may be similar, but they
often express them in different ways.
long does it last?
go though the stages of grieving in somewhat different ways, and
can behave somewhat differently also in each of the stages. Most
people, however, recover from a major bereavement within one or
two years. In abnormal grief, however, they may become stuck at
an early stage of grieving, and do not get over a loss, even after
many years have passed.
is the treatment?
normal grieving, therapy is usually not necessary, although some
people find it helpful to talk their feelings through with a clergyman
or counsellor. Some counsellors have specific training in therapy
with people who have a blocked grief reactions, which can be useful
in helping them move through the stages of grieving. Where there
are significant symptoms, or where the person is suffering from
Depression or symptoms of PTSD, then CBT, sometimes combined with
antidepressant medication, is required.