When someone close to us dies, grief can be so painful, and seem so overwhelming, that it frightens us. Many people who are in a grief situation wonder if they are grieving in the "right" way, and wonder if the feelings they have are normal. The following list of normal grief responses. Remember, everyone needs to grieve in their own time and in their own way. Be patient with yourself and others.
Most people who suffer a loss experience one or more of the following:
- Feel tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest.
- Have an empty feeling in their stomach and lose their appetite.
- Feel guilty at times, and angry with others.
- Feel restless and look for activity but find it difficult to concentrate.
- Feel as though the loss isn't real, that it didn't actually happen.
- Sense the presence of the deceased person, like finding themselves expecting the person to walk in the door at the usual time, hearing their voice, or seeing their face.
- Wander aimlessly and forget and don't finish things they've started to do.
- Have difficulty sleeping, and dream of their friend/loved one frequently.
- Experience an intense preoccupation with the life of the deceased.
- Feel guilty or angry over things that happen or didn't happen in the relationship with the deceased.
- Feel anger
- Feel as though they need to take care of other people who seem uncomfortable around them, by politely not talking about the feelings of loss.
- Need to tell and retell and remember things about the deceased and the experience of their death.
- Feel their mood changes over the slightest things.
- Cry at unexpected times.
These are all natural and normal grief responses. It's important to cry, to talk with people and ask for help, when needed.
Talking with Children About Death
- Tell children immediately. Children should hear it from us.
- Approach the discussion gently and lovingly in a voice that is warm, sympathetic and kind. HOW you say it is more important than WHAT you say.
- Be authentic, be yourself; if you're sad let it show. We don't need to hide things or bottle up our feelings. Someone or something is gone and we feel badly because we care. Tears are okay, a natural thing (as long as we don't fall apart or get hysterical). It frightens children to see an adult out of control of their emotions. We can cry gently in our sadness and grief and be authentic. Death is hard to handle; it is a part of life.
- Be realistic about grief; death hurts. “No man is an island; all deaths diminish us". It leaves a big hole in our lives when that person is gone. We are going to have our ups and downs. It's okay to feel sad and mad that they are gone and have left us.
- Tell the cause of death.
- When you are talking with children initially, pause from time to time to let them express their thoughts for you to observe and evaluate how they are taking it (from their non-verbal behavior). Watch for children's non-verbal response in the next few days or months.
- Respect a child's individual response—each of us over time needs to find our own way. Let them vent the emotions of grief. It is okay to express tears, anger over the dead leaving us, the unfairness of it all. Guilt, denial, despair and protest are normal parts of the grief process.
- Be prepared to repeat the explanation; death is a hard message to hear. Denial and numbness get in the way of hearing.
- Let the child know that they will have questions and confusion about the death—we all have questions and you want him/her to come to you with feelings or things they want to talk about. We can talk about things that hurt.
- Don't be afraid to say you don't know why. Death has many confusions for adults too. It is part of the mystery of life, and we have to deal with it the best we know how.
- Pull together as a family for support. " We are together and we will come through this time together".
- Realize that grief is a process and it takes a long time to get through healthily (approximately 6 months to 2 years). It has its ups and dawns, good times and bad. We can expect it, but eventually we do "heal".
- Do give children the feeling that life will continue despite the fact that the dead will be remembered, that they will live in our hearts, that eventually (while things will be changed and different), we will go on. Give reassurance and hope.