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There are many different kinds of events that impact on people individually, as well as communities with devastating results. These can range from widespread catastrophes like natural disasters such as floods or bushfires, to more personal losses in the way of illness or accident.
If you have been affected by something like this you may be feeling great sadness and disorientation. If you have lost a loved one, community member or home you may also have experienced a number of secondary losses such as having to move house or changing school. You may also face questions about your identity and where you fit in, or regret over lost possessions and intense feelings of missing your world as you knew it.
At the moment it may be difficult to consider what is going ‘well’ because you are aware of all the things that have changed and at times are still feeling sad, disoriented, confused or alone. Have you ever thought about how you manage these feelings, and what can help you through this difficult time?
You may have met people who seem to believe in the ‘flu’ model of grief: it lasts about two or three weeks and then gradually you get over it, get stronger, and get back to school and life as before. However, research shows that grief is not like this. The shock and disbelief surrounding a death or a tragedy involving great loss can continue for a long time, and sadness may come and go.
Evidence shows that grief and distress are normal reactions to an abnormal event, and that most people will eventually adjust and accommodate this grief into their life. You might find this hard to believe at the moment because your world still feels topsy turvy.
A grieving person (whether experiencing the loss of a loved one, a neighbour, a home, pets or familiar surroundings) often moves between being in touch with their deep sadness and moving forward and getting on with life – slowly re-engaging and reconstructing the future. Both of these phases are important and distinct and cannot be hurried or set into a timetable.
It is difficult to predict the path of grief as each individual experiences loss differently, due to a number of factors, including:
For some people it helps to be with family and friends as they work through the grieving process. Other people prefer to gradually try new behaviours and slowly start reconnecting with their world. On average it takes four or five years, or even more, for a person to accommodate grief into their lives – so give yourself permission to slow down if you need to.
Often people will want you to get back to where they were before they suffered their loss, whereas the reality is that life might never be the same. However, research shows that many young people who experience bereavement, although difficult, become stronger emotionally as a result. Sometimes they develop a greater sense of ‘what’s important’ in life and increased resilience (a belief that they can adapt to anything). Sometimes young people may also develop a sense of premature maturity when compared to their peers.
If you are used to being part of a relationship with another person, family or community it can cause a loss of self-identity and purpose if you lose this relationship. It often takes time to adjust to these changes as you are relearning a world which you have never experienced before. Working out a new identity when a family shape has changed is important, and can be a challenge.
Do people grieve differently?
Grief often involves a balance between developing a new relationship with the person or thing that has been lost, and at the same time learning how to live with grief, and turn it into something manageable. It is important to remember during this time that people grieve differently, for example, some people:
It can be difficult for family members to understand and support each other when each person is grieving in their own way. Different events and memories will have significance and trigger sadness, often at different times, for each family member. As well as this, siblings may feel pressure or guilt for having survived other siblings, and parents who have lost a partner may feel pressure to fill both roles for their children.
New growth is part of your recovery …
Most importantly, remember, help is always available – you are not alone. Small steps and changes in behaviour, and great patience are important parts of recovery and starting anew. It might be helpful to imagine a tiny, fresh, green shoot growing through the earth. These ‘green shoots’ could symbolise growth and adaptation to new circumstances, and suggest that there is stronger growth to come. This growth and adaption can also be seen in individuals and families as they journey through the grieving process
Grieving is a very personal journey but there are a number of things which can help you manage your grief such as:
Health Report Interview, Mal McKissock 2001. Retrieved 22 September 2009. http://www.bereavementcare.com.au/articles/health_report.htm
Stroebe, M. S and Schut, H. (2001) Meaning making in the dual process model of coping with bereavement. Meaning Reconstruction and the experience of loss. PsycBOOKS
Ribbens McCarthy, J. (2006) Young people's Experiences of Loss and Bereavement - Towards an Interdisciplinary Approach. Open University Press, UK
Tolle, E. (1999) The Power of Now. Namaste Publishing, Canada
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief - Relaxation Exercises to Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression (modified 2008). Retrieved 21 September 2009.http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htmr
Last Reviewed March 2015