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Grieving? Your Negative Feelings Are Normal and Natural

Dear fellow life traveler,

The journey of coping with grief is a unique one as you face the reality of loss. You have been through so much. Your heavy heart may have led you here. I am sorry that you are hurting. For today, you may need another person to validate that your pain could be this raw and that there is help. It can feel like the ground beneath you has shifted, leaving you searching for solid ground amid overwhelming emotions.

Grieving is challenging, especially if you are grieving multiple experiences and you are taking this journey without support or tools. It may feel like you are trapped in a time warp. People may wonder if any of this is normal.

This post discusses some emotions that you may experience days, months, or even years after a loved one dies. Remember, there is a way through the pain; you do not have to take this journey alone. No one else has ever felt your pain or had your grief. Walking through the pain with a partner or like-minded community may be the key to healing.

Is This A Dream?

The loss of a loved one is a profoundly painful experience. In the immediate aftermath of a death, it is expected to feel dizzy, disoriented, and numb. The whole reality of the loss often takes time to sink in. This initial shock serves as a buffer to protect our emotions from the intense grief that is to come. People who do not seek help with these challenging emotions can get stuck here for years or a lifetime. Some may find they need help to untangle and name their feelings.

In the beginning stages of grieving, people may frequently experience disbelief and denial. The mind struggles to comprehend that a loved one is gone, especially if the event is sudden. It might seem unthinkable that the person who was here one minute is no longer alive and will not be coming back. Even if the death was anticipated, the finality of it often feels surreal. People may wonder how life can go on without their loved one’s presence.

Along with disbelief, the newly bereaved may feel confused and unable to process basic information. Concentration is impaired, and the mind is preoccupied. Making decisions is difficult. One may forget pertinent details or struggle to recall normal routines. This cognitive fog and sense of unreality provide distance from the painful reality of the loss. With time and support, the mind comes to accept the truth of the loss so the mourning process can unfold.

What Is The Point Of Trying?

The loss of a loved one often leads to depression. This depression is characterized by extreme and pervasive sadness, emptiness, and emotional pain. The bereaved individual may experience a loss of pleasure and interest in everyday activities, withdrawal from others, sleep and appetite changes, fatigue, and loss of concentration.

Simple tasks can feel impossible to accomplish and there is often a sense of hopelessness. Crying spells are common, as well as irritability and restlessness. The depressed mood may seem to come in waves, with sad periods intermixed with moments of respite. However, the sadness persists day after day, week after week.

Depression after the death of a loved one is a normal part of grieving. However, if the depression becomes severe, lasts more than a couple of months, or impairs functioning, consider a physical health assessment and mental health evaluation as medical support may be needed.

How Is This Fair?

Anger is a prevalent emotion after loss. The anger can often feel overwhelming and can be directed at various sources:

– Anger at the situation – People may feel furious about the circumstances surrounding the loss, especially if it was sudden, violent, or preventable. There can be anger about the perceived unfairness and meaninglessness of it all.

– Anger at the lost loved one – Some people direct anger toward the person they lost, for things like abandoning them, not taking care of themselves, or making poor decisions that led to their death. There may be anger about unresolved issues in the relationship.

– Anger at oneself – Many people grapple with guilt after loss and direct anger inward. There may be regret over not doing more for the lost loved one, not spending enough time with them, or not preventing their death. Self-blame and anger often go hand-in-hand.

– Anger at others – Anger after loss can also be directed at doctors, authorities, or other people connected to the death. Family conflicts can arise as people blame each other. Anger may also be directed at God or the universe over the injustice of it all.

Anger can cause people to say and do things they later regret. It’s important to find healthy ways to process these feelings, through counseling, support groups, physical activity, or creative expression. The anger may never fully subside, but people can better understand and make peace with its sources over time.

If Only…

After a major loss, many people are caught in a cycle of wishing things could be different. They may fantasize about how the situation could have played out differently, imagining scenarios where their loved one didn’t pass away or the relationship didn’t end.

This stage represents a desire to regain control and undo the loss. People may think, “What if I had done something differently?” or “If only I had known sooner.” You may find yourself trying to negotiate with a higher power, promising to change or do anything if only the loss could be reversed. There may even be magical thinking that if the proper ritual is performed, the loss will somehow be undone..

Did You Do Everything That You Could?

It’s common to experience feelings of guilt after the loss of a loved one. You may replay events repeatedly, wondering if you could have done something to prevent the loss. Even if rationally you know there’s nothing you could have done, you may still feel haunted by “what ifs” and regrets.

Guilt can stem from all kinds of situations surrounding the loss. You may feel guilty about arguments you had with the deceased or times you feel you weren’t there for them. You may regret not visiting them enough or not telling them how much you cared while they were alive. Or you may feel guilty about being the one who survived when they did not.

These feelings are normal parts of the grieving process. Try to be gentle with yourself and recognize that the guilt is coming from a place of love. Talk to others who knew your loved one about the happy memories you shared—this can help ease the pain and regret. Also consider writing a letter expressing everything you wished you had said as a way to find closure.

While the guilt may never fully dissipate, it should become less raw over time. Focus on the good moments you shared, the love you shared, and the fact that your loved one would want you to move forward in peace.

Will This Dread Ever End?

The anxiety after a significant loss can be overwhelming. You may experience intense fear and dread, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Panic attacks are common, as the loss can trigger intense anxiety about other areas of life. Insomnia is also frequently reported, as anxious thoughts make it difficult to relax and sleep. 

The anxiety stems both from the pain of the loss itself, as well as the uncertainty it introduces about the future. Your mind races to hypothetical worst-case scenarios to avoid fully processing the grief. Deep breathing exercises can help calm the anxiety, as can talking through your worries with a trusted friend. Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional counseling if the anxiety persists and interferes with daily functioning. Medication may be warranted in severe cases but should be used cautiously to avoid dependence.

 Your nervous system is in shock from the loss, but you will regain equilibrium. Have compassion for yourself and don’t try to “snap out of it.” With patience and support, the anxiety will subside.

Could Anyone Understand?

The feeling of intense loneliness after a loss can be one of the most challenging emotions to deal with. When someone close to us dies, we lose our primary companion, confidant, and support system all at once. This can leave us feeling intensely isolated and detached from the rest of the world.

Where we once shared our daily experiences, troubles, and joys with the deceased, we now find ourselves coming home to an empty house. Mealtimes are spent alone. Their presence is missing from family gatherings. We have no one to check in with after a long day. The loneliness can feel suffocating.

Grieving people often withdraw from social circles or activities they once enjoyed. Participating without their loved one by their side is simply too painful. Continuing day-to-day life without them feels meaningless. This avoidance only exacerbates the loneliness.

Reaching out to connect with others during this time provides some relief from solitude. Sharing experiences with people who understand precisely what you’re going through. Leaning on close family and friends, even for a phone call, can ease the sense of detachment. Reengaging with social activities gradually can also help fill the void left behind.

The loneliness of grief never completely disappears but making an effort to stay involved and accepting support from others allows it to dissipate over time. No one can ever truly replace the companionship of a loved one but forging new bonds and routines eventually helps the loneliness subside from acute to manageable.

This Valley Of Dry Bones

Losing someone close often leaves you drained, both emotionally and physically. The grief process takes an enormous amount of energy as you work through the intense emotions and adjust to a new reality without your loved one. It’s common to feel completely exhausted, even if you sleep and eat normally. You may notice:

– Lack of motivation – Simple tasks like getting out of bed, showering, or making a meal can suddenly feel impossible. You don’t have the energy or desire to do anything.

– Mental fogginess – Grief makes it very difficult to focus or concentrate. Your mind feels numb and cloudy.

Physical tiredness: Your body feels heavy and weighed down like you have no strength. Even the smallest exertions leave you wiped out.

– Difficulty sleeping – Despite fatigue, many grievers struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep due to anxiety, depression, and circular thinking.

Lethargy and sluggishness: Your movements and speech may slow down, and you may feel like you’re moving through molasses.

Don’t be alarmed if the fatigue lingers for weeks or months after your loss. This is a normal part of the grieving process. Be patient and lower your expectations of what you can accomplish daily. Get extra rest when possible. Ask loved ones for help with daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and childcare. Light exercise may boost your energy once you feel ready. Manage stress and make self-care a priority. The profound exhaustion will gradually lift as you heal.

How Could You Possibly Be Jealous?

You may be surprised by the intensity of envy you may feel when you begin to notice seemingly intact families all around you, living seemingly happy lives. This one shocked me, and it took time to quiet my self-judgment. Jealousy during grief is not uncommon and can be a complex emotion to navigate. It may arise when a person feels envious of others who still have their loved ones around or when they compare their loss to someone else’s grief process. These feelings are normal and natural, as grief is a profoundly personal and individual experience.

It is important to remember that everyone’s grief journey is unique, and comparing your grief to others is not helpful or productive. Each person’s relationship with their loved one and the impact of their loss is different, so it is natural to have different emotional reactions.

To cope with feelings of jealousy during grief, it may be helpful to:

  1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings: Recognize that jealousy is a normal emotion in the grieving process and does not make you a bad person. Allow yourself to feel and express these emotions without judgment.
  2. Seek support: Reach out to a trusted friend, or family member who can provide a safe space to express your feelings without judgment. Talking about your jealousy and grief can help bring clarity and understanding.
  3. Practice self-compassion: Be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate through grief. Understand that it is okay to have complex emotions and that you are doing the best you can in your unique grieving process.
  4. Focus on your healing: Instead of comparing your grief to others, focus on your healing journey. Engage in self-care activities that comfort you and help you process your emotions, such as journaling, practicing mindfulness, or participating in support groups.
  5. Seek professional help if needed: If feelings of jealousy in grief become overwhelming or interfere with your daily functioning, consider seeking professional help from a grief educator or mental health provider who can provide guidance and support.

Remember, grieving is a complex and individual process, and everyone experiences various emotions, including jealousy, at different times. It is expected to have conflicting and contradictory feelings during the grieving process. Be patient and allow yourself to feel and process your emotions in your own time and way. It is expected to feel lost and overwhelmed in the depths of grief. Do not stay here. There is also the potential for growth, healing, and a deeper connection to Faith in this darkness. I am a witness.  It’s a journey, and it’s essential to be gentle with yourselves as you navigate the ebbs and flows of grief, trusting that comfort and healing are possible. Today, you took one giant step in learning more about normal emotions in grief. Take one more step towards finding help today.

 

Next month, we will examine the positive emotions that people also experience in the grieving process, even in the midst of pain, and how to amplify these.

 

Note: The information provided here is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. If you are struggling with intense or prolonged feelings or difficult emotions during grief, it is recommended to seek support from a licensed mental health professional in your area.

 

US 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat.  988lifeline.org  

 

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash