Grief is a complicated combination of emotions, thoughts and physical experiences that occur after loss. It can cause our defenses and I ate coping mechanisms to rise up and create numbness or denial￼, It can create opportunity for physical manifestations such as heart palpitations, severe anxiety, rise in blood pressure, changes in sleep and appetite and a host of other things.
Grief is insidious. People have described it as consuming, heart wrenching,￼ exhausting, or like putting on a coat of wet concrete. Steeling oneself against that pain may work for a moment or a day, but long term it is healthier to allow those feelings to come out in discussion, writing or music.
After a personal loss twenty years ago I personally felt my ears ringing, I broke out in sweat and I was physically nauseated. The mere thought in advance of what actually happened took my breath away, so the actual event was not surprising to be similar. I had anticipated, dwelled on and decided it was unimaginable and then dismissed it as unconscionable. My mind had anticipated the feelings and paved the way.
Often when our loved one is gravely or receives a diagnosis with a specific time limitations to grow worse or result in death, we begin our grieving at that moment. We think we are prepared but while it may not be a complete surprise, it is still a shock to our system.
Sudden unexpected loss presents some different challenges. A day starting on a usual schedule with healthy family members all going about an expected routine feels shattered and off balance when a police officer comes to tell us about a fatal car accident, a school shooting or a heart attack while jogging. These messengers are intruders in our life which we have planned according to habit and experience. Routine medical procedures with little risk that end in death￼ severely impact how grief is assimilated.
For a person who has carefully chosen a career path and spent 25 years at a job, the downsizing, move or restructuring of a company often means that some employees are going to lose their jobs￼ to be replaced by other employees, technology, mechanization etc.￼ Grief certainly can set him over the loss of position, identity, income, benefits, security, etc. Then, loss of home, possessions, retirement income, etc. become collateral or secondary losses. That results from the original loss￼.
I want to revisit for a moment grief as it relates to the loss of a pet. Many pet parents are wrought with grief after the death of a pet and again, circumstances may compound the pain. Was it natural causes related to usual life span? Was it sudden ? Was the death because of someone’s negligence? A driver who is texting hits the dog on the sidewalk, walking with its owner. ￼A pet food distributor manufactures a product that causes feline cancer. A veterinarian’s negligence causes an otherwise healthy pet to die. Guilt and anger can cloud the grief and add a layer to healing.
Fear, guilt, sorrow, helplessness, anger, hopelessness, sadness, loneliness are not unusual reactions. How you respond to those reactions is important for your health. Internalizing feelings can accelerate the effect on you emotionally and physically. While anger may be a reasonable response for wrongdoing, it can become fueled and rage ensues. In a stage of rage, thinking and reactions are more impulsive and less focused on beneficial outcome.
You must take care if yourself first. Think of the flight attendant who instructs passengers to use the oxygen before administering it to children or elderly. If you are not taking care of yourself first, you cannot help your cause, or others.
Sarah Byrd, PhD
The Radius Consulting Group, Inc.
“Finding Peace and Direction After Crisis”