Caregivers...Grief...Coping

Anyone faced with a serious loss begins to grieve before the loss actually occurs. The stages of grief and loss listed here are fluid and most people do not begin with stage #1 and proceed in an orderly fashion to the last stage. There is usually a great deal of movement among and within the stages.

Stages of Grieving

1. Denial/Shock. The shock of death is to be expected even after months of anticipatory grief. People often describe the first few weeks of grief as having been lived on auto-pilot. There is very little actual memory of specific details - merely the knowledge that one did what had to be done. Shock usually wears off after 5 or 6 weeks, but may last longer.

2. Emotional Release. It is not uncommon to see intense emotional release at the time of death, and then have it seem to dry up for a number of weeks. When shock finally dissipates, you may find strong emotions such as anger, fear, remorse, and loneliness. You may be amazed to discover the degree of dependence you felt for the one who died.

3. Depression. Depression takes the emotions mentioned above the intensifies them, adding feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. You may complain of not feeling your loved one close o you any more or of wanting to be with him/her.

4. Physical Symptoms of Distress. This is very common. You may feel tightness in the throat or a heaviness in the chest. Loss of appetite is common. You may even experience symptoms similar to those displayed by your loved one.

5. Anxiety. Vivid dreams, waking and sleeping, in which you see and/or hear your loved one, are common. Spiritual anxiety may be expressed as: "How can he/she be at peace knowing I am suffering so?" "Is he/she happy?" There may also be the fear that the anger being felt toward God will bring about punishment in the form of additional losses. Many experience deep anxiety over the possibility of forgetting the loved one and no longer being able to recall how the person smiled or how his/her voice sounded.

6. Hostility/Anger. Anger is the emotion but hostility is the response. Anger usually surfaces in the sixth to eighth week after the death. This rage is sometimes random, sometimes specific. God, medical professionals, clergy and the deceased are frequent targets. You may be confused by the intensity of the anger.

7. Guilt. Guilt is sometimes real, often imaginary or exaggerated. The "shoulds" seem to rule the world. It is usually highly unlikely that any one thing is critical. Doing the best you can with what you have at the moment is a good guide.

8. Fear. There may be a fear of sleeping in the same bed or room, leaving the house or staying in it, of bring alone or beginning new relationships. There is the fear of never knowing joy again or not being able to laugh without guilt.

9. Healing of Memories. You may move back and forth between good memories and bad. As the memories become less painful, there is an ability to begin to face the world once more.

10. Acceptance. There is a difference between accepting the reality of the death, thereby letting go, and forgetting the person who has died. As with the healing of any serious wound, there will always be a scar to remind one of the injury. With time will come a lessening of the pain.

Critical Intervals

  • First 48 Hours: The shock of death can be intense and denial is often strong in the first hours.
  • First Week: The necessity of planning the funeral and making other arrangements usually takes over and you may function in an automatic manner. This may be followed by a feeling of let down and emotional/physical exhaustion.
  • 2-5 Weeks: There is a general feeling of abandonment as family and friends return to their own lives after the funeral. Employers often expect the bereaved to have recovered and to be fully functional on the job. The insulation of shock may still be in effect and there may be a sensation of ³Well, this isn¹t going to be as bad as I first though.²
  • 6-12 Weeks: It is during this time that the shock finally wears off and the reality of the loss sets in. Emotions range widely and you may feel lost and sometimes out of control.
  • 3-4 Months: The cycle of good days and bad days begins. Irritability may increase along with physical complaints.
  • 6 Months: Depression may set in. Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays are especially challenging, and may trigger renewed depression.
  • 12 Months: The first anniversary can be traumatic OR the beginning of resolution.
  • 18-24 Months: The pain of separation becomes bearable. There is an emotional letting go of the deceased and a recognition that, while the person will never be forgotten, the pain of his/her death will no longer need to be the focal point of life.

Coping

  • Take care of your physical needs.
    Eat a balanced diet and drink 8 glasses of liquid/day;
    Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Get some form of exercise daily.
  • Rest (maintain rest patterns even if unable to sleep)
  • Read books, articles, poems to help in understanding and finding comfort.
  • Avoid making big decisions/changes
  • Talk with spouse, family and/or friends about feelings of loss.
  • Accept help from family, friends, clergy, support groups, etc.
  • Seek professional help if needed.


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