Starting in early childhood, many of us have been taught to face life’s crises with a “stiff upper lip”, and to “bear-up and be strong.” As we are influenced by these subconscious messages we become fearful that any show of emotion (particularly tears) might be interpreted by others as a sign of weakness (i.e. “He’s falling apart” or “She’s going to pieces.”)

One of the tragedies in our society today is that many bereaved family members and friends experience grief alone, feeling, “There must be something wrong with me. Certainly no one I know of has ever felt or behaved in these strange ways.” Fearful of embarrassment or appearing “crazy” to others, many bereaved persons hide their true feelings of grief.

It is important for you to realize that what you are experiencing is a normal, natural, and expected response to the loss of a significant person in your life. Your grief reaction may manifest itself in any one or more of the following ways described by other bereaved persons.

Physical Reactions:

  •  “I feel sick to my stomach; I just can’t eat.”
  •  “I have trouble getting to sleep and after I finally do, I only sleep for a few hours before I’m up              again.”
  •  Physical weakness, pounding and/or heavy feeling in the chest, shortness of breath.

Mental Manifestations :

  • “I can’t seem to get organized.  I’m up and down a hundred times during the day, here and there, and never accomplishing anything.”
  • “I keep thinking about how it all happened, over and over again in my mind. I guess I’m just trying to make some sense out of it all.”
  • “I think I’m losing my mind. I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t even decide what to wear today.
  • “I walk into a room or a store and can’t remember why I am there.”
  • “Yesterday I heard my loved one call me in the middle of the night, and today I thought I saw him rocking in his chair.”
  • Lack of initiative, forgetfulness, tension and anxiety.

Emotional Reactions:

  • “If only I had just a little more time.”
  • “He should have gone to the doctor months ago-somehow I should have seen to it.”
  • “The nights and weekends are the worst for me-empty and lonely.”
  • “It’s as if any time he’ll call or come walking through the door. I keep thinking of things to tell her. Or ask her.”
  • Feelings of relief, anguish, depression, unexpected and uncontrolled crying.

Social Reactions:

  • “They say I’m being so strong, doing so well. They have no idea how I really feel!”
  • “They act if nothing has changed when everything has changed! Nothing is the same.”
  • Tendency to respond to others with anger or irritability, loss of spontaneity.

Spiritual Reactions:

  • “If my faith were stronger I would be able to handle this.”
  • “If I really believed, this wouldn’t have happened.”
  • Anger with God, doubts about the reality of God’s existence.

There may be times when you feel depressed and will have to force yourself to take action and face the many new responsibilities that have suddenly become yours. For awhile, you may feel preoccupied by thoughts of the deceased person. 

There may be times when you will be angry at God, angry at people who are living, angry at others for reasons you may not understand. There may be times when you will be angry at your loved one because he/she left you to carry the burdens alone.

The sleepless nights, confusing details, and new problems to face nearly everyday may be exhausting for you. You may feel a need to make sudden changes in your life and you may find yourself doing and saying things that don’t even make sense to you. Hold on, because it will pass, just as the other phases have passed.

I would remind you that what you are, and will be, experiencing is normal. The work of mourning is a growing process for you, a challenge. At first it will seem to be an overwhelming task. At time passes, you will begin to realize that you are making adjustments to your new life. You will never forget your loved one and there will always be times when you will still grieve, for the work of mourning is not to forget, but to make the loss more bearable. Sometimes grief can be especially challenging when the relationship has been difficult. You may have competing feelings of relief, anger and overwhelming sadness that life never changed, that they never changed. 

It’s important to work on forgiving yourself for any regrets you may have & accept that you did the best you knew how to do. Support Groups can be helpful. Please check with local hospice programs to see if there is one that may be of support for you. These programs are usually free of charge.