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Coping with grief

Losing a loved one is among life's greatest challenges. Even if their death was expected, the sense of loss and intense sadness you feel can come as a shock.

Grief is the emotional suffering you experience after the death of someone you love, and it's a natural response to loss. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve. Everyone has their own way of coping and of showing their grief. Everyone comes to terms with the loss in their own way and in their own time.

Common feelings after the death of a loved one include:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Regret
  • Loneliness
  • Numbness
  • Relief
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

The pain of loss might feel overwhelming. It might feel like it will never end. But in order to heal and to come to terms with your loss, you must acknowledge your grief. There are healthy ways to cope with your pain and sadness, and work towards healing and acceptance.

Some people feel they have to "stay strong" after a loss and not show their emotions. But expressing your feelings is a vital part of healing. It's important to talk about what you're going through, and have the support of family and friends, a bereavement support group, or a professional counsellor.

With time and support, you will be able to come to terms with your loss, find new meaning and go on with your life.

Grief is an individual process

Everyone has their own experience of grief and will go through a different grieving process. Your relationship to the deceased, the significance of your loss, your personality, coping style, life experiences and faith, all factor into the grieving process

Grief can trigger a range of emotions, some of them unexpected. People may tell you how you should feel or what you should do after the loss of a loved one; you may even tell yourself that you shouldn't be feeling a certain way.

But remember, there is no "normal" way to grieve. Let the feelings come, acknowledge them, and work through them with the help of family, friends or other sources of support.

You may wish the pain would go away, but healing after a bereavement is a gradual process. There is no timetable for grieving. Some people find their sadness easing after weeks or months, while others take years to come to terms with their loss. Birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions can all be painful reminders that someone we loved is no longer with us, triggering strong feelings of grief.

It's a myth that moving on with your life means you have forgotten your loved one, or that they were not important to you. Moving on simply means that you have accepted your loss, and are learning how to live your life without that special person. It's okay - in fact, it's necessary - to let go.

Look after yourself

Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you cope with the loss of a loved one.

Grief can be exhausting. It can affect you physically, as well as emotionally. It can disrupt your sleep, your appetite, your relationships, your ability to think clearly. You may feel sick or fatigued, gain or lose weight or have lowered immunity.

Trying to get enough sleep, eating healthily, exercising, and maintaining your social connections, hobbies and interests, can all help you get through this very difficult time.

Support from family and friends

When you've suffered a loss you may feel like withdrawing from the world. You might not feel up to facing family, friends and colleagues. But it's important not to isolate yourself. Having the support of others, and being able to talk about your loss when you want to, is vital to healing.

People will want to help you but may not know what to do, so tell them what you need. It may be something practical, like help organising the funeral, making meals, cleaning the house, caring for children. Or it might be emotional support you need - a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen, the company of a friend who knows what you're going through.

Infant Loss

Infant loss triggers a unique kind of grief, and is one of the most painful things a family can go through. Yet it is not often talked about openly. For some couples, the lack of acknowledgement for their loss makes the healing process harder. You have not just lost your baby, but the plans, hopes and dreams you had for them - of holding them in your arms, watching them grow, and growing as a family.

Whether you suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, or lost your baby at or soon after birth, you had a special bond with your baby, and the grief and sadness can be intense. While the pain will ease over time, you may feel the loss for the rest of your life.

It may not seem possible at times, but you can move through your grief to healing and acceptance, and think about the future again.

Some couples find it helpful to join a support group. Sharing your loss with others who have been through similar experiences, who truly understand what you're going through, can be a comfort.

Different ways of grieving

It's normal to feel a range of emotions, including anger, confusion and despair, after the loss of your baby. The joy and anticipation you were feeling about the arrival of a little one is replaced by grief and sadness.

It's important to remember that everyone experiences grief differently, shows it in their own way, and processes it in their own time.

Different coping and communication styles may lead to conflict between partners after the loss of their baby. Try to be patient and caring, to be there for each other, and understand that your partner is grieving in his or her own way.

Remembering your baby

You will make room in your heart and mind to remember your baby, even if you never had the chance to see, touch or hold them. On significant dates like your baby's birthday, you may want to light a candle for them or write them a letter or poem.

Physical reminders can also help keep their memories alive. You might want to have a piece of jewellery made, or a box for treasured keepsakes like footprints or handprints, ultrasound pictures, clothes, toys or blankets.

A funeral or memorial service gives you the opportunity to say goodbye to your baby, and to share your grief with family and friends. It also recognises the significance of your loss and the importance of your baby's life, even if it was painfully brief.

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