Grief is the biological process of the brain for healing and recovery from loss.
Grief affects everyone differently. There are no hard and fast rules about how you will grieve.
Did you know that the extreme stress that results from grief affects you physically too?
It can manifest as both chronic and acute disease. As you know, stress plays a major role in how your immune system functions.
The majority of bereaved people experience some kind of physical illness in the first four to six months after the death of a loved one. For most the illness can be directly tied to the extreme stress of their loved one’s death.
Loss and grief can also impact blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels and hormonal balance.
When experts have looked at grieving people’s brains through imaging studies, they’ve found that there is increased activity along a broad network of neurons.
These links are also associated with mood, memory, perception, conceptualization and even the regulation of the heart, digestive system and other organs.
The more we dwell on negative thoughts, the more developed these neural pathways become. Which can result in chronic preoccupation, sadness and depression.
If your relationship with the deceased was difficult or strained, this will add another dimension to the grieving process. It may take some time before you can look back on the relationship and adjust to the loss.
The first phase (also know as the alarm reaction) occurs immediately on contact with the stressor. When you learn of the death the brain translates the stress of grief into a chemical reaction in your body.
The pituitary gland at the base of your brain is stimulated to produce a hormone called adrenocorticotrophin or ACTH.
This reaction is protective. It readies the body for battle. The ACTH then travels to the adrenal gland, a gland at the top of the kidneys, which causes a chemical reaction that ultimately produces cortisone.
As the cortisone level increases it causes the production of ACTH to level off.
When a death takes place, you may experience a wide range of emotions, even when the death is expected. Many people report feeling an initial stage of numbness after first learning of a death, but there is no real order to the grieving process.
So how can you deal with loss and grief?
1. Remember that you will survive this. The emotional ups and downs that you are feeling are normal and part of the grieving process.
2. Don’t try to speed up this process. If you don’t heal properly, your grieving will be incomplete. The energy of your present will remain bound to your past.
3. Take care of yourself. Pretend you are your best friend. What would you encourage her to do? Probably get a lot of rest, eat well and get adequate exercise.
4. Others may get impatient with your grief process. They may think you aren’t getting past the loss fast enough. Well, tough. Avoid these kinds of people because they aren’t helping you.
5. If you don’t want to be alone, seek out someone that is compassionate and perhaps has had a difficult loss of her own. She will know what you are experiencing and be able to help guide you gently through your grief process.
6. Write about your loss. How you feel about it, what thoughts keep cropping up in your head. Write down your dreams. Writing all this down encourages the grieving process to move along.
7. Create new rituals. I sing to Charlie after I turn the lights off before we go to sleep. He seems soothed by it, and it helps me relax as well.
8. You can also create your own memorial. Maybe plant a garden to symbolize your loss. Or fill a big container with herbs and flowers that symbolize your feelings for your loved one.
9. Avoid making big decisions during this time when you are so vulnerable. Your thoughts are skewed right now. It’s much better to put off big decisions until you can think more clearly.
10. Follow your gut. Too often we let others tell us how to feel. And then we feel guilty if we can’t feel that way. No one knows you better than you.
The five stages of grief are:
Denial: When I learned that there was nothing more they could do for Abi, I felt so many emotions all at once. I was in shock. I was overwhelmed.
Anger: After I saw her body stop moving, I was faced with the finality; the beginning of my loss and grief. I felt helpless and sometimes hopeless. I was frustrated because I had no control. This had happened under my watch and I felt guilty.
Bargaining: I went over everything that had transpired in the past weeks and wondered if I or the vet could have done something different. How could this have been prevented? What should I have done?
Depression: After about a month, the shock was gone and the loss really sunk in. I cried as much if not more.
Acceptance: I know I will regain some normalcy in my life. I know I will move forward and the pain will lessen with time.
Unfortunately grief and loss is a part of life. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier of course.
Grieving is a process. Don’t try to deny your feelings and emotions. That will only make the process take longer.