WHAT IS GRIEF?
Grief is a universal experience. Everyone will experience losses during their lifetimes, and though each person's grief is different, there are some commonalities to the grieving process.
Grief affects not just the emotions, but the body as well. Grief affects not just feelings, but also behaviors. It affects the feelings you have towards the person you have lost, and also towards those who remain. Grieving takes more time and energy than people often imagine. It will likely manifest in all aspects of your life, and may bring up many different feelings besides the expected ones of sadness or depression. Be aware, especially in the beginning, that grieving changes over time, and that there may be an ebb and flow to your emotional and even physical responses to loss.
Mental health professionals distinguish between two types of grief: complicated and uncomplicated. Of course sometimes one can have aspects of both types of grief in the mourning process. In uncomplicated grief, the many normal responses to grief will be present in greater or lesser degrees of severity, and will very likely include a wide range of emotional and physical reactions: anger, sadness, guilt, panic, fear, confusion, loneliness, listlessness, change in appetite, absent-mindedness, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, sudden or rash behavior, a desire to be alone or an increased need for companionship, obsessively thinking about the deceased, and so on. (See also Normal Responses to Grief.) It is understood that these kinds of responses to loss can continue to appear in lessening frequency and severity for as long as two years and still be considered within the range of a normal, 'healthy' grief response.
Complicated grief can manifest in several different forms, all of which demonstrate an inability to accept the loss over time through the 'work' of grieving. Avoidance of grief might be signaled by not tending to the deceased's belongings, by maintaining a fixation on the magnitude of the loss, or by holding on to guilt or anger rather than finding forgiveness over time. In chronic or prolonged grief the bereaved does not find feelings of pain and loss lessening over time, and feels intense grief responses years after the loss has occurred. Delayed grief is characterized by an exaggerated reaction to a current loss, indicating unresolved grief from a previous loss. Inhibited or masked grief includes self-destructive behaviors such as neglecting health, alchohol or drug abuse, extended preoccupation with suicidal thoughts, acting out impulsively, or developing prolonged psychsomatic symptoms or complaints. Complicated grief may also trigger other psychiatric disorders, such as clinical depression or anxiety. Any of the complicated grief responses above should be brought to the attention of a medical or mental health professional.
It is important for anyone dealing with the death of a loved one to remember that in your grief you are experiencing a necessary psychological process which will eventually help you come to terms with your loss. As you talk about your feelings, your pain will gradually diminish, and you will likely discover many important insights into yourself in the process. In doing the 'work' of grieving as soon as possible, you are giving yourself an opportunity for growth and healing. If you allow yourself to share your feelings with your loved ones, your therapist, or a bereavement group, you will be able to establish and strengthen relationships that can help to alleviate your feelings of loneliness.