Health Corner: Grief and Healing

BY MARGIE THOMSON
For the UAS Whalesong

As a member of the UAS Community, you may have been impacted by tragic news of recent deaths and loss. Our most recent passing of student, Reed McWilliams, who suddenly passed away last weekend, can bring a host of grief and loss feelings including, shock and disbelief, sadness, anger, fear, physical symptoms and even guilt. This is an important time to take care of yourself while you begin the healing process.

Recovering from grief and loss is a normal process and important in dealing with the thoughts and feelings you experience when someone you love and care about dies. It is a necessary, although painful, part of the grief process.

It is best to think of grief as a roller coaster, rather than a series of stages to go through. Like many roller coasters, grieving is full of ups and downs, highs and lows. The ride tends to be rougher in the beginning; the lows may be deeper and longer.

While loss affects people in different ways, many people experience the following symptoms in the early stages of grief:

*Shock and disbelief-right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing the loss even happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love died, you may expect them to show up, even though you know they are gone.

*Sadness-Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

*Guilt: You may feel regretful or guilty about things you did or didn’t do or say. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings, (feeling relieved when a person dies after a long, difficult illness).

*Anger: Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry at yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who dies for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

*Fear: A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

*Physical symptoms: We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains and insomnia.

The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you are grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.

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

Plan ahead for grief “triggers”. Anniversaries, holidays, birthdays can re-awaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know its completely normal.

It’s normal to feel sad, numb or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and move forward. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or depression. UAS Counseling Services is available for all students to help process any and all grief reactions. Appointments can be made at 796-6000.

Even in the deepest gloom, we can trust that it will eventually get better. Guidance from a counselor or support group can help one again find self-confidence and hope.

*Source: Hospice Foundation of America

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