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Coping with grief and loss

Better minds better living with Dr. Yansie Rolston Monday, June 19 2017

WE ALL know that people die, yet when it happens to a loved one, even if the person’s demise was expected the grief still has a profound impact causing considerable pain.

In preparing to write this article I decided to start noting down the ways in which I dealt with coming to terms with the loss of my father –Alva who passed away in October.

The process was no easy feat because even though my profession requires that I keep up-to-date with scientific research and studies on the subject, and undergo regular refresher training, I am not immune to the effects of grief.

In anticipation of shedding few tears I armed myself with a tissue but soon realised that I was kidding myself – one tissue was not going to be enough to quell the floodgates because my grief is still raw.

Grief is one of those complicated all encompassing feelings that takes on a life of its own with a gamut of emotions and processing stages, but it is a natural response to losing someone or something important.

There are five common stages of grief:

Denial – which is a defence mechanism to cope the initial overwhelming emotional turmoil

Anger – feelings of frustration that the person has left you

Negotiation – questioning if there was anything you could have done to prevent the loss

Sadness – a sense of loss and/or loneliness

Acceptance – feeling sad but with the ability to accept the reality and move on with life But grief is subjective –I am a true Brit when it comes to coping with loss so my natural tendency is to maintain a stiff upper lip and react in a controlled way. But everyone’s response is unique so there are those who lash out in anger or others who will become introverted.

Grief is therefore deeply personal varying in type, severity, duration and responses. For example, in circumstances where a person is still alive in body but not in mind and the situation does not provide a space for closure of a loss, it is possible to experience ambiguous grief due to the unresolved loss.

There can be situations where people experience Complicated Grief Disorder also known as traumatic, prolonged or chronic grief. This can be accompanied by depression, anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and some people also experience intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, helplessness and hopelessness, and may try to numb their pain by embarking on damaging behaviours such as excessive working, overeating or dependency to and misuse of substances.

Though grief can take a toll on both emotional and physical well-being, there is no right or wrong way to grief or a usual amount of time in which to go through the process. It all depends on the individual’s personality, circumstances, belief, and support available. For example, a person’s grief can be intensified and sustained over a long period of time if they have underlying health complications.

Grief has a tendency to create feelings of vulnerability and anxiety and one of the most natural reactions will be avoidance – whether it is to places, situations or social contact but the knock-on effect is that the isolation will exacerbate and prolong the state of grief.

Coping with grief and loss is for the most part about managing the practicalities of day-to-day life while dealing with the emotions, which can be easier said than done, especially given all the other pressures in life. So, the importance is to seek out coping strategies to help with the loss and adjust to any changes that may have occurred. Journalling, talking, meditating, exercising, eating healthy, keeping hydrated, forging and maintaining meaningful relationships, and giving yourself permission to go through the grieving process can prove to be useful.

To quote Rose Fitzgerard Kennedy: “It has been said, time heals all wounds. I do not agree.

The wounds remain. In time, the mind protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it never goes.” Remember that with time the sun will shine again.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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