Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "When a person is born we celebrate, when they marry, we jubilate, but when they die, we act as if nothing has happened."
Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the death of a loved one or to a major loss in your life. Grief is also experienced with divorce, miscarriage, relocation, the loss of a major dream, the loss of a limb, the loss of your health, and the loss of a beloved pet.
In addition, say grief experts James and Cherry, "Dealing with addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, and so on, can lead to monumental grief."
When a loved one dies, most people who experience grief are unprepared for the floodgate of emotions that sweeps over them and alters their life irrevocably. They feel devastated, crushed, flattened, disorientated, and confused. They have great difficulty even getting through the ordinary tasks of daily living.
Bella Azbug, a prominent feminist politician, had a very close and loving relationship with her husband until his death. In an excerpt from her book quoted in Ms. Magazine (July/Aug/90), she describes how this loss affected her:
"My reputation is that of an extremely independent woman and I am. But I was dependent, clearly, on Martin. He would embrace me in his furry chest and warm heart and protect me from the meanness one experiences in the kind of life I lead... These past three and a half years have been the most difficult period in my life. I still have this tremendous pain. And the guilt that I wasn't there when he died... There's a great loneliness... nothing substitutes."
People who have not experienced a major loss can simply not imagine how overwhelming this loss can feel to you.
Friends and relatives sincerely want to help, but they often don't know what to say. They may try to comfort you with empty platitudes and dumb cliches that only make you feel worse.
Loving, patient, and non-judgmental support is the greatest gift you can give people experiencing a major loss in their lives.
After a death or major loss, you may begin to question your religious beliefs. You may feel angry at the higher power for allowing such a thing to happen. Even if you are able to find comfort in your religion, you will not be protected from the intense and, at times, overwhelming emotions of grief.
Some clergy have no idea how to assist a grieving person. Others are very experienced. Some churches and synagogues have excellent support groups for grieving persons.
On a physical level, the most common symptom you are likely to experience after a major loss is profound fatigue, especially in the first year. Forgetfulness and sleep problems are also very common after a death. Other symptoms include headaches, joint pains, back pain and recurrent infections. You may develop a mysterious ailment for which your doctor can find no answers.
An unrelated TV program or a person in the street may trigger a flood of tears. Between three and six months after the loss, when all your friends think you should be over this now, the full and devastating emotional impact of the loss hits you in full force like a tidal wave. It feels like you have been numb before that time.
Commonly a whole year goes by in which you walk about like a zombie, barely able to keep up the pretence of functioning. One day you wake up and know you will recover. But then it will still take another one or two years before you have fully accepted the loss and made it a part of your life.
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