There are many types of loss; everyone who experiences loss also experiences their own personalised grief. There is the loss of a partner, spouse, family member, child or friend. There are also many other types of loss including loss of a pet, loss of a job or home, loss of youth, loss of mobility or loss of sight. A person’s response to loss is personal and individualistic. For some the loss of a pet can be as equally devastating as the loss of spouse or partner.
Grief is a normal human reaction, but how we express grief and mourning may vary due to our culture. In many Western cultures, there is an expectation that people will recover from grief and mourning quickly. People are pressured “to get over it,” to keep busy and move on with their life.
In some Western cultures, there is a strong reaction to tears or sadness. We may find people looking for a solution to the problem rather than allowing the expression of grief. Loss and how we grieve, is not only individualistic but can also be cultural.
People often use a variety of coping strategies when they experience a major loss. These coping strategies may include, avoidance of painful triggers (photographs, places or people), distractions, keeping busy either at work or home, obsessing or ruminating over details of the loss, impulsive behaviour, making life changing decisions on the spur of the moment, intellectualising, talking or thinking about the loss without showing emotionsand attaching to people.
There are often physical symptoms when a person is in a state of grief. These may include poor concentration and memory, disrupted sleep, poor appetite, self-medication with drugs or alcohol. Other physical symptoms may include tightness in the throat or chest, sighing, tension, pain and an empty feeling in the stomach.
A person may experience similar feelings to bereavement with the ending of a close relationship. Or this may happen when a person is separated from a part of their life that they consider important.
Loss is a universal experience; we will all experience loss in our lives. The process of grieving after the loss of a relationship or death of a loved one is extremely complex. Western society often appears to negate how important the grieving process is, and sometimes appears to reduce it to platitudes, like “they’ve gone to a better place“ or, “don’t worry you’ll get over it I did.” If Western society comes to acknowledge the importance of grieving, then individuals may have the chance to truly grieve openly and express their feelings and receive the much needed care and support.
Christopher Swane - Grief and Loss Counselling - Wellington New Zealand