Will Halcyon offer family support after the passing of my loved one?
Grieving the Loss of a Loved One: A Guide for Family Members and Friends
In addition to our team of medical professionals, Halcyon Hospice has a support network of trained spiritual and bereavement counselors to help you and your loved ones as you navigate your grief journey. We have created the following guide to provide you with an overview of what to expect during the grieving process, and resources to help you during this difficult time.
What to Expect
Grief is the natural reaction to the loss of a loved one. Highly personal and complex, grief affects each person very differently. Regardless of the dynamics and symptoms of your grief, remember that there is no one “right” way to grieve. Everyone must grieve in their own way and at their own pace. During this time it is important that you be kind to yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold. Try to avoid comparing your reactions to those of your family members and friends. Remember that no two people will grieve in the same way.
The First Few Months
Grieving typically involves a wide array of emotions that vary in duration and intensity. In order to recognize these symptoms and begin the healing process, it is helpful to understand some of the most common reactions to grief.
The most common initial response to the loss of a loved one is a combination of disbelief, anger, shock and denial. For example, you may have difficulty believing that your loved one has really died. You also may experience real physical reactions including hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the chest and throat, insomnia, difficulty breathing and/or fatigue.
Other Symptoms of Grief
After some time has passed, you will likely be able to begin coping with the death of your loved one. This period is often referred to as “finding your new normal”. Even during this phase of the grieving process you may encounter some of the following symptoms:
- Emotional: Emotional responses to grief include guilt, depression, anxiety, loneliness, anger, resentment and/or feelings of numbness and emptiness.
- Physical: Physical reactions to grief include fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss/weight gain, aches and pains, and decreased sex drive or function.
- Mental: Our minds are profoundly affected by the loss of a loved one. As you grieve, you may experience confusion, disbelief, insecurity, forgetfulness and/or difficulty concentrating.
- Spiritual: Grieving often has a direct impact on our faith or spiritual outlook. Some individuals question their core beliefs after the death of a loved one, while others express anger that their loved one was not observant to deeply held family faith, beliefs or traditions. It may be helpful to seek support from members of your faith community as you work through the spiritual journey of your grief.
If you are concerned about your health or any of the symptoms that you are experiencing, contact your primary care physician.
Grieving as a Family
When a loved one dies, his or her family and network of friends enters a period of mourning as well. During this time, roles, responsibilities and the nature of relationships may change. While everyone grieves the loss of a loved one, individuals will express their grief in different and various ways. It is important to remember that everyone must grieve in his or her own way and in their own time.
Special Needs of Grieving Children
Children often have many of the same reactions and needs as adults in mourning. Yet most children do not have the emotional, intellectual or life skills to effectively communicate their sadness, anger, guilt, fear or other emotions they may be experiencing related to their grief. Children need to be able to express their emotions in an environment where they feel physically and emotionally safe. Support groups created specifically to meet children’s distinct grieving needs can be a helpful resource. Confidential support groups are facilitated by certified grief counselors who are skilled at helping children share their feelings and learn positive coping skills so they can come to terms with their loss.
Ways to Help Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Grieving can be a long process that affects every area of your life. Below are some tips on how to help yourself and your loved ones as you mourn:
- Schedule Time to Grieve. Ignoring your grief will not make it better; in fact, it may make it worse. Set aside time for reflection, treat yourself with patience and kindness and remember that some days will be better than others. Think of grief as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning; the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.
- Communicate. Remember to communicate openly and honestly about your grief. Reach out to family and friends for support. They have experienced the loss as well, and it can be a time of increased closeness and understanding as you open up about your feelings. Try actively listening to friends and family members and make an effort to understand their emotions and reactions.
- Take Care of Yourself. Grieving can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining. Eating well, exercising regularly and getting plenty of rest will give you the energy you need to take care of yourself.
- Show Tolerance and Understanding. During this time it is important to accept each other’s differences and promote an atmosphere in which family members and friends feel comfortable articulating their emotions and sharing their struggles and triumphs. You may want to plan periodic get-togethers to show support for one another. Do not hesitate to ask how other friends and family members are doing, even though they may need some time alone to cope with their loss. Never assume that a loved one is doing well just because he or she does not talk about the loss.
- Grieving Takes Time. There are no fixed timetables or shortcuts when it comes to the grieving process. Since each individual experiences grief in his or her own way and at his or her own pace, be patient and give others, as well as yourself, time to heal. Tears can be very therapeutic. Try to avoid making any major, life-altering changes or decisions within the first year following a loss. For example, do not feel hurried or rushed to sort through a loved one’s personal items. Instead, talk with other supportive family members and try to make decisions together.
- Join a Support Group and/or Meet with a Bereavement Counselor. Support groups offer a place to receive comfort, reassurance and support. There are many types of bereavement recovery groups that meet within local communities, such as religious and non-religious based groups. Some groups are facilitated by professional credentialed individuals, and some by trained paraprofessionals. You can find these groups by looking in your local paper, contacting your local place of worship or contacting a local hospice. There are many professionals who can help you and your loved ones navigate through the grief process. Physicians (PCP), psychologists, social workers, clergy and hospice bereavement counselors all can assist with getting you started or help you if you’re stuck. Hospice bereavement counselors are specially trained to help people of all ages effectively cope with grief and grief-related issues and struggles as they arise.
How Grief Rituals Can Help
Rituals are an important part of life. While we often associate rituals with milestones or celebrations, such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduations, rituals can also have an important place in the grieving process. Creating a ritual to remember your loved one allows you a way to act on your grief in a positive and constructive way. Some people plan rituals in honor of a loved one’s birthday or shared anniversary. Others choose to express their grief through small weekly rituals.
You may choose to include others in your ritual or to make it a private affair. Consider who you wish to include in your ritual, as well as where you would like it to take place. Keep in mind that a meaningful spot is far more important than a convenient one. Following are some suggestions of rituals to remember your loved one:
Sample Grief Rituals
- Light a candle at certain special times of day to remind you of your loved one (e.g. in the morning when you both ate breakfast or later in the day, when you often watched your favorite television shows together).
- Create a memory scrapbook and fill it with photographs, letters, postcards, etc., from your life together (This is very effective with most children).
- Spend time listening to your loved one’s favorite CD.
- Continue a tradition that you shared with your loved one.
- Plant a tree or flowers in your loved one’s memory or make a donation to a charity that your loved one supported.
- Visit your loved one’s burial site.
Not Sure Where to Begin?
Interested in creating a ritual to remember your loved one but not sure where to begin? Halcyon Hospice offers a team of bereavement and spiritual counselors dedicated to helping the families and friends of the patients we serve. Our counselors can help you think through a way to implement a meaningful, appropriate ritual that pays tribute to your loved one. You can meet with a hospice counselor in person, either in our offices or in your home. We can also assist you over the phone if you prefer.