Expectations have no place when it comes to grief. How any of us will react to the loss of a loved one, how we will feel or how long those feelings will last are questions that time alone can answer.
Even though each mourning experience is unique, most people go through similar stages. While the loss is fresh, you may be in shock or find it hard to believe that your loved one is gone. The reality may not sink in until you’ve sorted through emotions such as anger, guilt and depression. The journey to acceptance may also require many day-to-day adjustments: setting one less place at the dining table, figuring out how to balance the checkbook or taking on new roles in your loved one’s absence, for example. Reaching out to friends and family or joining a bereavement group can provide great support at this time.
If you’re mourning for the first time, you may be wondering if what you’re feeling is normal. Rest assured that changes in appetite and sleep patterns, stomach problems and fatigue are common physical reactions in the months immediately following a loss.
You may also notice intense mood swings—sadness, anger, panic and fear—have difficulty concentrating or feel mentally foggy. It’s also quite normal to sense your loved one’s physical presence and even “hear” his or her voice at times.
Sometimes grief so paralyzes a mourner that he or she is unable to enjoy life again. Signs of trouble include:
- social withdrawal and isolation
- a loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
- a sense of despair
- an inability to speak of the deceased without feeling intense grief all over again
- an inability to move toward future growth and happiness
In severe cases, a person continues to deny that the loved one has died. He or she may even hope for a reunion and exhibit self-destructive behavior.
It’s okay and not at all unusual for the grieving process to take several years—as long as the mourner is moving forward. But whenever a person seems to get “stuck,” professional counseling may be helpful.