Dealing with grief and loss
By Dr Brighton Chireka
As part of my training to become a General practitioner I was offered a 6 months rotation to do palliative medicine at local hospice in Kent United Kingdom in 2007. My impression of the hospice was that it was a place for people to die and no one leave the hospice alive . I tried to swap so that I could avoid doing this rotation but I am glad that I failed to swap and ended up doing the rotation. Palliative medicine became one of my best rotations that I did and I do not mind going back to work at a hospice. My experience at the hospice and the numerous numbers of people dying has made me to write about grieving. I saw people who were at peace with their terminal illnesses and were comfortable to talk about death. This acceptance had not happened overnight but had taken a bit of time.
Grief is a natural response to loss . The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. We associate grief with the death of a loved one but any loss can cause grief . Other losses includes, divorce, miscarriage, cancer diagnosis or other diseases such as HIV/AIDS , loss of a pet or job, loss or separation from a child.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve because we grieve differently and there is no “normal ” timetable to grieve. We do have healthy ways to cope with the pain that , in time , can renew us and permit us to move on. The grieving process takes time as healing happens gradually; it cannot be forced or hurried.
We have been told a lot about how we can deal with our losses but some of the messages are not correct and I will address those myths.
Myths about grief and loss
We have been falsely told that the pain will go away faster if we ignore it. We know that trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. We have also been falsely told that it is important to be “strong ” in the face of loss and that men do not cry. We now know that feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying does not mean we are weak. We do not need to “protect ” our family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing our true feelings can help them and us as well.
Our sisters have falsely accepted the lies that if you do not cry , it means you are not sorry about the loss. They go to great length in trying to cry to show that there are “sorry”. We have seen women who attend funerals and “cry ” for all to see and hear. They will be laughing on their way but as soon as they get near the funeral place they “switch on” and start to cry . The crying will soon stop after a few minutes as if they have had a sudden “power cut “. We all know that crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it. I hope this will discourage some people from forcing or faking crying to show that there are “sorry”.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” The stages are denial where we fail to accept what has just happened. Another stage is anger where we ask why it is happening and look at who to blame. We may reach a stage of bargaining ( negotiation) or depression where we become too sad to do anything. We may eventually reach a stage of acceptance where we become at peace with what would have happened. We do not need to go through all these stages to be healed and the stages do not have to happen in any particular order. These are just responses to loss that many people have ,but there is not a typical response to loss , as there is no typical loss.
What can we do to deal with loss ?
The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Weep with those who weep so, the bible says. The following are some ways to deal with loss:
1- Turn to friends and family members for support
2- Draw comfort from your faith ( church )
3- Join a support group. There are those that have experience the same loss as you and will be happy to share their experiences with you. I call them “wounded healers” as they will show you their healed wounds and encourage you to be positive about your loss. Their acknowledgement of your loss is very important as you know that there are speaking from experience.
4- Talk to a therapist or a grieving counsellor.
5- Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
5- Using social media for support
Memorial pages social media sites can be a way to reach out for support. These pages allow friends and loved ones to post their own tributes. Reading such messages can often provide some comfort for those grieving the loss. Of course, posting sensitive content on social media has its risks as well. Memorial pages are often open to anyone and this may encourage people who hardly knew the deceased to post well-meaning but inappropriate comments or advice. To gain some protection, you can opt to create a closed group rather than a public page, which means people have to be approved by a group member before they can access the memorial. It’s also important to remember that while social media can be a useful tool for reaching out to others, it can’t replace the face-to-face connection and support you need at this time.
Contact your doctor , a grief counsellor or professional therapist if you;
1-Feel like life isn’t worth living
2-Wish you had died with your loved one
3-Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
4-Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
5-Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
6-Are unable to perform your normal daily activities
Please feel free to share with us your experiences and coping methods so that others may benefit.
This article was compiled by Dr. Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent, UK. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog DR CHIREKA’S BLOG
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr. Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information, but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health professionals for proper diagnosis.