“It’s been years he has gone, no one has ever been able to fill his place. Yes, the world is moving, things around me have been changing but the emptiness in my heart still persists” -the daughter
Grief; the enduring pain that can turn into agony, anger, violence, depression or much more. The pain of losing someone, recalling memories of the lost ones, the pain of getting away from the attached figure is not easy; especially when you know the person will never come back, you cannot have few words together again, you cannot say what you feel for them anymore and it is heart-wrenching. It seems like every part of the heart and mind is getting destructed slowly and slowly. Yes, it’s not easy.
Grief is processed by different people in various different ways.
- Young children see losing someone as reversible and are starting to wonder if death happens to everyone. You might hear questions like: “My mom died? When will she be home?” and “Will you die too? What about me?” Withdrawal, denial, re-enactment play, heightened separation anxiety, whining, crying, clinging, tantrums, regression, and fear of sleep are common symptoms. Poor academic performance, fantasy play, obsessive talking about the incident, anxious arousal, behavioural changes, peer problems, psychosomatic complaints, attention-seeking.
- Adults understand that death is permanent and start thinking about how the loss will affect them over the long term. Some people will focus on the details of what happened to the body of the person who died. Feelings of guilt and regret can lead to concern that their thoughts and actions made the death happen. While teens understand death is permanent, they may have unspoken magical thoughts of the person being on a long trip, etc. They may also delve into questions about the meaning of life, death, and other traumatic events. Acting out, self-criticism, fear of repetition of event/happening again, displaced anger, guilt, are common symptoms.
Symptoms of grief
Though it sometimes becomes difficult to expect a life without closed ones, time is the biggest healer. But if grief is not addressed immediately it can create various psychological or medical problems like
- Increased risk-taking: drugs/alcohol, unsafe behaviours, reckless driving
- Inability to concentrate pushing themselves to succeed and be perfect
- Difficulty sleeping, exhaustion
- Lack of appetite/eating too much
- Unpredictable and at times intense emotional reactions: anger, sadness, guilt, relief anxiety
- Uncomfortable discussing the death or their experiences with parents and caregivers
- Worry about the safety of self and others
- Fear about death or violence happening again
- Confusion over role identity in the family
- Attempts to take on caregiving/ parent role with younger siblings and other adults
- May have thoughts of suicide and self-harm
- Hypervigilance/increased sensitivity to noise, movement, light
How to cope and help others cope with grief
- Accept the truth
- Vent out as much as you can
- Avoid rescuing or fixing
- Inform yourself about what happened. Answer questions clearly and accurately. Even though children this age are starting to grasp abstract thought, it’s still helpful to use the words dead and died and avoid euphemisms such as gone, passed on, lost, expired.
- Provide a variety of activities for expression: talk, art, physical activity, play, writing
- Model expressing emotions and taking care of yourself
- Be a good listener. Avoid giving advice (unless they ask for it), analyzing, or dismissing their experiences
- Seek professional help for any concerns around self-harm or suicidal thoughts
- Normalize feelings and fears
- Talk about the relationship between acting out and traumatic event
- Help others in need