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Living after loss

Grief is the normal response of sorrow, emotion, and confusion that comes from losing someone or something important to you. It is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss or a move away from family and friends.

After a death or loss, you may feel empty and numb. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, sleeping or eating. You may experience symptoms of anxiety such as irregular heart beat, tingling and dizziness. You may cry easily, or be unable to cry at all.

You may feel angry – at a situation, a person, or just angry in general. Almost everyone in grief also experiences guilt, thinking, “I could have” or “I should have.”

People in grief sometimes have strange dreams or nightmares. You may not want to see friends or go to work. These are normal feelings and behaviors during grief, but they will pass.

How can I cope with painful feelings?

  • Connect with caring friends and family members. Let them know what you need from them.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, try to get enough sleep and regular exercise.
  • Postpone major life decisions, such as changing jobs or moving until you’ve had more time to adjust to your loss.
  • Be patient with yourself. It may take months or longer to feel that your life is returning to normal.
  • Recall happy memories. Looking at photographs and mementoes may be painful but ultimately healing.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy good times, without guilt. It’s alright to laugh.
  • Journal your feelings. Write about what you’re going through. Don’t edit yourself. Just let the words flow.
  • Take time out to enjoy yourself for awhile.
  • Crying can be a healthy expression of emotion.
  • Creating a collage or scrapbook can be a healing experience.
  • Try to forgive the person who left you or those whom you hold responsible for your loss, and most important, forgive yourself.
  • Don’t rush to dispose of a loved one’s possessions. Take time to decide which special items you want to keep and which you’d like to offer to others who were close to your loved one.
  • Support groups can be a welcoming place to express your grief with others who understand.

How long does grief last?
Grief lasts as long as it takes you to accept and learn to live with your loss. For some people, grief lasts a few months. For others, grieving may take years.

Everyone grieves in their own way and time. Emotions will come and go for some time. But most people who have experienced a loss will come to accept the loss, work through their pain, adjust to living without the person or situation lost, and begin to move on with their life within one or two years.

You’ll know you are recovering when

  • remembering brings more pleasure than pain.
  • you are comfortable being alone.
  • you think about the person or situation you’re grieving once in a while instead of every day.
  • you can begin planning for the future.

What if grief becomes depression?
Research shows that people who suffer significant life stresses are at greater risk of becoming depressed or developing Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. For someone with a predisposition, a serious loss can also trigger a bipolar/depressive episode.

Depression is more than a feeling of grief after losing someone or something you love. Clinical depression can take over the way you think and feel. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, avoiding people, having frequent nightmares, not functioning well at work or at home, or if sad and empty feelings persist with no lifting mood, talk to your doctor.

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