The emotional pain associated with losing a loved one is immense. Some people may feel like it will never end but, according to clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Young, help is always available for those who are able to reach out.
Grief is an emotional response following the experience of any loss, role transition or difficult adjustment. It can come from loss of a loved one, loss of role, loss of physical health / mobility, loss of a pet, ending of a relationship, loss of possessions or moving house etc. Each person can respond differently to their grief, however, we typically understand there to be five stages of emotional response that a person goes through:
Shock and Denial; (numbed disbelief)
Anger; (this isn’t fair, why me)
Bargaining; (if only I had…)
Depression; (this hurts so much)
Acceptance; (that’s the way it is, a new reality)
The stages are not necessarily sequential and there is not a neat progression from one stage to the next. A person does not have to experience every stage in the cycle and the depth of feelings and emotions experienced can vary from person to person.
When grieving the loss of a partner, a person may miss many things about their loved one, and this may vary depending on what the relationship brought for the person. Typical features of loss can include missing the company and support that a loved one provided. The loss of a loved one may also bring financial difficulties which can impact on the person’s psychological adjustment. If the partner provided support for physical mobility/ health, this is also something that will be affected.
Accessing support from friends / family or professional services is advised when experiencing grief. This can provide a supportive ear to talk to, as well as help with any practical adjustments that may need to be made. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions is important and can help a person move through the grief cycle more effectively. Trying to maintain a sense of routine can be helpful, as well as continuing to engage in pleasurable or relaxing activities. If you don’t feel like going out and socialising, perhaps ask a close support to come to you to spend some quiet time together. People may feel guilty about socialising and forming new connections following the loss of a loved one. This is a natural reaction and can be difficult for a person to manage, however it can also be indicative of a healthy adjustment when a person does feel ready to embrace social engagements again.
Although grief is not time limited, if someone is finding is difficult to cope then they may benefit from some professional support. When moving from the grief cycle, a person will most likely still continue to experience memories that can bring on sadness, however if a person is unable to return to their pre-bereavement level of emotional well-being or performance, they should go and speak to their GP. Symptoms to be aware of include chronic low mood, reduced interest and enthusiasm, sleep difficulties, longstanding changes in appetite or weight change. Other symptoms include ongoing poor attention and concentration and ongoing worry or feelings of fear, as well as social isolation and avoidance of previously enjoyed activities.
Sometimes speaking to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist can be helpful. If you would like to arrange to see a psychologist, make an appointment with your GP who can provide a referral. Psychological support can be accessed a number of ways, most commonly people use a “mental health care plan,” which is a Medicare initiate providing up to ten sessions per calendar year that are subsidised. Depending on the health professional, there may be an additional out of pocket expense per session. To find a suitable psychologist, speak to your GP or call the hospital for recommendations, or go to https://www.psychology.org.au/findapsychologist.
If you are supporting someone with grief, allow the person to express their grief; it is a natural and functional process. Offer the support that the person needs, listen to them and acknowledge their feelings. If they want to talk about their loss, sit with them and listen to what they want to say, acknowledge the loss. If you are also grieving or feeling strong emotion, so not be afraid to express this around the person. Particular anniversaries birthdays and celebration times like Christmas and other special days may be particularly difficult; plan ahead and check with the person if they would like to celebrate the day in some way, or if they would like company. The person may require support when making major decisions (e.g. moving house, selling personal items etc.) if they are grieving.
Are there any support groups?
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement ph. 1800 642 066 or web: www.grief.org.au
Lifeline – phone counseling service. ph. 13 11 14 (call any time 24/7) or web: www.lifeline.org.au
GriefLine – phone counseling service. ph. 1300 845 745 (call between 12.00 noon and 3.00 a.m. seven days a week, 365 day a year)
The Compassionate Friends – group counseling for bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents. web: www.thecompassionatefriends.org.au
Book – On Grief and Grieving. Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss (Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). New York; Scribner.)
Dr Sarah Young has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has experience working with individuals across the lifespan. She has worked with people presenting with moderate to severe mental health difficulties and is particularly interested in the connection between physical and mental health.
Dr Young runs the outpatient Day Programmes at St Andrew’s Hospital in Toowoomba, offering group based psychological treatment to help support patients presenting with symptoms of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The hospital provides the only private acute in-patient Mental Health Unit in Toowoomba.