Journalist and podcaster, Suchandrika Chakrabarti, writes about grief because she has spent a lot of her life living with it. She lost both her parents before her 20th birthday, and was both surprised and confused throughout her 20s by how complex and all-consuming the symptoms of grief can feel. Suchandrika didn't find much information about grief out there at the time, so she writes about it in order to demystify the experience, and help other people going through grief feel like they are not alone. Join her as she identifies grief and steps you can take to help deal with it.
Coping with Grief
Grief always comes as a shock to the system, even when the loss is anticipated, and its effects go much further than feeling sadness. Unfortunately, as a society we shy away from talking about grief, so the wide variety of difficult emotional and physical symptoms that accompany loss can come as a shock to the person already suffering, and to the people supporting them.
Grief is a reaction to a major loss in your life. That can be the death of a loved one, a miscarriage, a relationship break-up, the loss of financial stability or retirement. It is a huge and irreversible change in our own personal worlds, and it takes time to come to terms with our altered circumstances. It is very important to be kind to ourselves when going through this process, and to be present for other people in our lives when they are experiencing their own grief.
How long does grief last for?
It’s natural to wonder how long this painful experience will last. The answer depends on the person grieving, the type of loss and the support around them, but there is really no way to predict how many months or years it will take for grief to work itself out. Beyond very early, raw grief - which is so all-consuming it can stop memories forming - it is possible to sit with the pain of grief and analyse it. This does become easier with time, and helps the mourning person understand what it is that she / he / they is going through.
How grief feels emotionally
Grieving feels like chaos, which is why it is tempting to look to structures such as the Kubler-Ross model, more often known as the Five Stages of Grief. However, these stages were invented to help patients with terminal illnesses face up to their deaths, but have been co-opted for all kinds of grief.
Mourning the loss of a person or of a former way of living rarely unfolds in such a linear way. Early disbelief and memory loss gives way to ‘magical thinking’, explored so well in the book by American writer Joan Didion. It is a process in which the mourning person tries out beliefs about changing their own behaviour in order to bring the loved one or earlier state back.
There is also often a great feeling of injustice threaded through grief, with the bereaved person feeling alternately sad and angry about why they had so little time with the person they loved. Deep grief can also feel very much like depression. The person suffering the loss won’t be able to find joy in the things she / he / they used to love doing, and may not want to do much at all.
Grief is also shot through with fear - the world has been pulled out from under the feet of the bereaved person, who has never really experienced life without their loved one. Death seems to lurk around every corner, and increased levels of cortisol lead to hypervigilance, a new jumpiness at every perceived danger.
The loss of tangible love - hugs, kisses, spoken words - also leads to another kind of fear: the fear that one is unlovable. It is perhaps a surprising element of grief, which can only occur when a person loved and was loved deeply. Still, there is something in the sudden loss of love that shakes a person to their foundation, and makes them question everything they knew, including their own capacity for and to be loved in the future.
How grief feels physically
The effects of grief aren’t restricted to the emotional. It’s important to look out for these physical symptoms and know that they can be caused by grief.
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in weight
- A weakened immune system
- Aches and pains
- Changes in sleeping patterns
These changes may well be temporary, but it is worth keeping an eye on them to see if they improve.
Steps for dealing with grief
It is essential to see the process of grieving as an active one, in which the bereaved person must engage with their own pain, and work out a narrative around the loss that she / he / they can deal with. Ultimately it is possible to take charge of grief and find acceptance and even meaning in the loss and its aftermath.
The grieving processes of two different people can look very different, and there is no need to compare, even if those two people are grieving the same person. There are no milestones to aim for and no one else can tell you when you have finished mourning.
It is much more constructive to seek out one-to-one support with a trained professional, who can help lift the lonely, crushing weight of loss, and help the bereaved person see that there is so much light at the end of the tunnel.
If you or a loved one is struggling to cope with grief, there are various support networks you can reach out to for support such as Cruse Bereavement Centre.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like Supplements for fatigue.
To read more of Suchandrika's work on grief visit: