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Frequently Asked Questions

Most people find themselves thrown into bereavement with little or no experience. In many cases, grieving is a mysterious and misunderstood process. As a result, grievers and grieving behavior are not readily accepted and supported in the way they could be. Following are frequently asked questions about grief and the grieving process.

Are grief and mourning the same thing?

Grief is the internal experience of bereavement following the death of someone we love. Mourning on the other hand is the outward expression of grief - grief gone public.

How long does grief and mourning last?

Each griever is unique and grieves in their own way and in their own time. The way an individual reacts to grief depends on their personality, prior experiences with grief, the relationship with the deceased, their coping skills and personality. Other factors also affect the grieving experience; the manner of death, whether or not the death was expected (i.e. terminal illness vs. accident) and whether the death was timely (i.e. death of a grandparent vs. the death of a child) and the available support system.

Grief takes as long as it takes for the bereaved to process the death and come to an acceptance of the death. Grief ends when it comes to its natural conclusion. This takes a different amount of time for each individual -there is no "set" time frame involved. For some people, grief takes a matter of months, for others it can take a year or two, and in the case of traumatic deaths (murder / suicide) the process can take 3-5 years.

What are some grief symptoms?

There are many feelings that are experienced in the grief process. The most frequently reported feelings include overwhelming sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, tiredness, helplessness and loneliness. Many bereaved also report physical sensations such as shortness of breath, a tightness in the chest or throat, heart palpitations, dizziness, confusion, trembling, excessive yawning, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness.

The bereaved might also withdraw socially or engage in over activity -occupying themselves with endless tasks and "busy work". Some bereaved report unusual dreams and occasional nightmares as well as seeing or sensing the presence of the deceased.

Is the grief process the same for everyone?

No - there is no prescribed way to grieve - no right or wrong. Grief is a personal experience and each person grieves in his or her own way. Some cry often and some do not. Others may want to talk about the deceased and the death over and over while some will withdraw into themselves and chose to deal with their grief on their own. Many feel that grief comes and goes in waves, some feel the worst part of their grief early on in the process while others report their most difficult time comes months or years later.

I feel like I am going crazy - is that normal?

Feeling like one is going crazy is one of the most normal grief reactions of all. Grief affects us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Your whole world has been shaken and changed forever. You are feeling emotions that may be strange to you or that you have not felt with such intensity before. Most people have wondered if they are going crazy at one time or another in their grief process - but like many of the feelings in grief, this feeling of going crazy almost always passes with time.

Is it morbid to want to talk about my loved one who has died?

It is not morbid at all. The person who died is someone who had an important place in your life. Death has taken away the person but not the relationship or the love you have felt. Remembering the person who died, speaking their name and sharing memories is a healthy way of establishing a new kind of relationship - one where you acknowledge the death of the body while still feeling a connection in your heart and soul.

How can I help myself through grief?

One of the biggest helps is having someone with whom you can talk openly and honestly about your feelings - your good days and bad, your sadness, fear, disappointment, loneliness, anger, guilt and even your hope.

You can join a support group and find comfort with others who are grieving through your community or church. Writing in a journal is also another help - recording your thoughts and feelings daily, writing letters to the person who died and composing stories or poetry of your memories.

Some people express their grief artistically - painting, crafting, and wood crafting. You may want to create a memorial. Others may find comfort spending time participating in activities that were meaningful to the person who died.

In grief it is important that you take care of yourself - making sure you eat a healthy meal at least once a day, get enough sleep (even napping during the day), avoid added stress, choosing to be among people who offer comfort and support rather than those who may sap your energy, physical exercise like taking a walk, and being open and accepting about your special needs during this time.

You cannot control what feelings may come up in your grief, or when they will come up. What you can do is take an active part in how you treat and take care of yourself while you grieve.

Something that many have said helps them is to spend time in nature. Looking at the world around us and being in touch with the rhythms of nature can be healing, symbolic and restorative.

I have a friend who is grieving - how can I help?

The greatest gift we can give is our presence and a listening ear:
  • Acknowledge what has happened, "I know [name] has died. I am so sorry for your loss and I want you to know you are in my thoughts and prayers." Telephone, send a card, deliver a meal, deliver a flower or plant. Especially after the 3 week period when the bereaved are feeling especially alone. Invite the bereaved to share their memories with you.

  • Listen!! Listen!! Listen!! The bereaved need to make sense of the death and make it real. They need someone to hear their story in order for them to validate and process the event.

  • Respond in your own authentic way. Reflect back what you hear being said. Summarize what has been said. This is not a time for judgment or direction - this is a time to let the bereaved talk.

  • Speak of the deceased by name.

  • Avoid phrases like: I know how you are feeling, you need to be strong, count your blessings, this was God's will, he/she is in a better place.

  • Don't give advice.

  • Let the bereaved share their story. This is not the time to talk about or work on your own grief experience. Do that within your own support system.

  • Silence is OK. A touch or a hug is often enough.

  • Accept the other person as they are for where they are. Do not judge their grief response - everyone grieves differently. It is unfair and unhealthy to expect the bereaved to follow a schedule.

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