Coping with Grief

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Grief comes in and out of our lives, in some shape or form, more than we would like in life. It’s hard to know how to navigate our feelings in the midst of such immense change, and it often can feel like you’re the only person experiencing what you’re feeling. Losing a loved one or someone close to you could be life changing. Only too often a death changes the very person that you have been till that time. How can you be a wife without a husband; a son without parents; or even a friend if your closest friend is gone? Even though we all know quite well that death is a part of life inasmuch as one who is born is bound to die, yet when emotions overcome us the faculty of reason is suddenly subdued. There is no doubt that the process of grieving can be really and extremely painful.

Regardless of whether one is a Pandit, a Muslim, or a Sikh, Kashmiris have been in grief for the past several decades. The pandemic has only accentuated it. With a spurt in the untimely deaths due to Covid19, there is grief all around us, which is a natural response to loss, be it of life, limb or liberty or even property. It’s the emotional suffering one undergoes when something or someone one loves is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can be overwhelming. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; grieving is grieving whatever may be the reason that may have led to it.

One may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions ranging from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt one’s physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think properly. These are normal reactions to loss – and the more significant the loss, the more intense will be the grief.

Coping with the loss of someone or something one loves is one of life’s biggest challenges. One may associate grieving with the death of a loved one, which often causes the most intense grief; but any loss can cause grief, including divorce, retirement, job, miscarriage, loss of cherished dream, loss of job, loss of financial stability, loss of health, loss of friendship, even death of a pet ad infinitum. Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief like one might grieve after moving away from home, leaving a school or college, or even changing jobs.

One need not feel ashamed about how one feels, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things, for the grief is personal. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation had been significant to you personally, it’s normal to grieve the loss you’re experiencing. Nor is there a fixed time table for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the healing process  may take years. Whatever may be one’s grieving experience, it’s important to be patient with oneself and allow the process to unfold naturally. Whatever may have been the cause of the grief, though, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease sadness and help one come to terms with the loss, find new meaning, and eventually move on with one’s life.

Grief should not be confused with depression even as the former may be the cause of the latter. It may not be always easy to distinguish the two inasmuch as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference. Grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when one is in the middle of the grieving, one may still have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant. Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief, include intense and pervasive sense of guilt, thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying. feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, slow speech and body movements, inability to function at home, work, and/or school and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.

It was in 1969 that the world-renowned psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or divorce or even a break-up. These are: Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.” Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?” Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will do so.” Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.” Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.” Or “It was God’s will.” Culturally, we all go mostly for the last one.

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages – and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, one need not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people show remarkable ability to resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if one does go through these stages of grief, one probably won’t experience these in a neat, sequential order. So don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

The pain of grief can often cause one to want to withdraw from others and retreat into a shell; but having the face-to-face support of other people is vital to healing from loss. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you. The key is not to isolate oneself. In fact, now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Grief can at times be confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven’t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But don’t use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it’s because they care.

One is also advised to embrace the comfort from the rituals one’s faith provides about mourning. Spiritual activities such as offering prayers and meditating can offer solace.

When one is grieving, it’s more important than ever to take care of oneself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete one’s energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Don’t suppress grief, you can’t avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to depression and anxiety. Better weep and let a part of grief be shed in tears. To weep is to make less the depth of grief. (William Shakespeare)

Try diverting your mind by turning to your hobbies and interests. There’s comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring joy and connect one closer to others, who can share the grief. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

Don’t let your health take a hit. Look after your physical health rather well. Remember that the mind and the body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and keeping your exercising schedule.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to. (Elisabeth Kubler Ross)

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.