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Grief and the grieving process

Grief is a normal part of life. When someone close to you dies or a life change happens, the most important thing is to allow yourself to feel your feelings and dare to talk about it. If you are a relative, it helps to just be there and not to let the grief scare you away.

What is grief?

Experiencing grief is more than just being sad. It is a natural emotional reaction to a major loss such as the death of someone close to you or a separation. Grief may also be triggered by major changes in life, such as when children move away from home, losing a job or retiring and no longer feeling needed.

The vast majority of people need to grieve after a major loss or change. The feeling, which is strong and often full of pain, arises as a way of showing ourselves and the world what we have been through. Grief is a signal that a person needs to reduce demands on themselves for awhile.

For many people, grief and tears are the same thing. But the body may react in many other ways as well. Extreme fatigue, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, fear, anxiety and restlessness may be symptoms of grief. Trouble with the heart or stomach and sleep problems may be symptoms as well. More diffuse symptoms and depression are common for older people.

How does this affect a person’s life?

Every grief is unique and there is no right way to grieve. It is important to take things at your own pace and in your own way. It is common to talk about a year of mourning, in other words it takes at least a year to process it. When a close relative has died, all of the celebrations that are held the first time without that person may be especially sensitive times.

People who are grieving have been known to feel that they can see or hear the dead person. This is also a natural reaction and does not mean that they have become mentally ill.

It is important to dare to show one’s feelings. Keeping everything inside can make a person try to escape the grief through excessive work or traveling, for instance. It can also lead to destructive behaviours such as pills and alcohol. These actions may postpone the grief.

Can things improve?

When a person is grieving, it may feel as though life will never get better again. This is not the case. In fact, a person has to get through it, however painful it is. There are no shortcuts, and it is important to allow yourself to be sad. Being open with your grief and talking about it can make things easier.

When everything is chaotic and nothing feels meaningful, it’s important to try to keep up ordinary routines. You may need to cut down on work and other sources of stress, but try to maintain regular food and sleep habits. Be alone when you wish to be and need to be, but do not completely shut yourself off. Support from relatives is extremely important in order to move on.

As a relative, it can be difficult and frightening to manage the situation. Managing to listen, helping with everyday tasks or just being there makes a huge difference. The worst things for the grieving person are avoidance and silence.

Where can support and help be found?

In more severe cases, for example when a young person dies, there is not always enough time to heal. If you or a relative are feeling trapped in a depressed state or suspect depression, you should seek professional help.

At a health centre you can get guidance and, if necessary, referral for conversational support with a curator or psychologist. Help is available if you have long-term sleep problems. There are also many associations and organisations that offer grief support.