In the course of our lives, we are all faced with the death of a loved one. The loss is always unique. It depends on the relationship we had with the person, the context surrounding the death and our own personality, history. And yet we hear the same advice: time heals wounds, the work of mourning is done in stages … But the way of dealing with grief is very different from one person to another. The intensity of the emotions felt, their duration and sometimes their novelty are distressing, incoherent and destabilizing.
This manual aims to deconstruct preconceived ideas about the experience of grief by focusing on and understanding the emotions felt.
Losing someone is not just being sad, it is a set of emotions that are intertwined.
There is nothing coherent in this suffering: it is intense then silent, it is angry then distressing…
1- The feeling of losing control, of going crazy.
Western society inculcates great modesty in the face of the externalization of emotions. People are asked to hide them, to repress them, implying that they are a sign of weakness, shame and immaturity.
Feeling emotions, whether joy, fear, sadness, is normal. Emotions are responses to events that allow us to understand them, accept them and integrate them into our lives. They are sometimes frightening because they take us out of our comfort zone, pushing us to face a reality. This is why we often hear that daring to feel is courageous. Thus, granting oneself the right to feel bad, to not dominate one’s emotions by reason and to let go is a brave act. It is a matter of mobilizing one’s resources for oneself.
2- Confusion, disorientation
The shock of the death may have led to this state of confusion. Daily tasks are hampered and difficult to complete, concentration and attention seem to fluctuate and the loss of a sense of time is often felt.
This is why decisions should not be rushed because resources are not as sharp as before. You have taken a blow that has hurt you, now the body has to absorb it. The daily routine and habits established with the person are broken and there are no more reference points. You have to realize that habits create this feeling of security where you have been able to develop for a long time. Now, it is a question of developing new behaviors, new capacities, of reshaping your life without the person.
There are no rules to adapt to this new reality: ask for help, learn to do it yourself… In the end, you are the person who built the after so that it becomes your now. You decide how to handle this situation.
Sometimes, the situation of the death can create a mixture of emotions that rarely mate. For example, in a long illness, in addition to the sadness of the loss, one may feel relief. Relief that the person is no longer suffering, even if it means dying.
This inner division is a sign of the struggle that reality in you. Reality is not white or black, it is a mixture of color that now comes to tint your emotions.
4- Anxiety, fear
We are confronted with the unknown at the time of a death. Life is different, our reference points are being reshuffled. We experience the fact of living without the deceased, of living new experiences that are both frightening and unwanted, of feeling new emotions.
In the event of a sudden loss, one may feel anxious that this is happening to another person. One may become hypervigilant, very protective and have a desire to control the environment. It is the fear of the unknown, the need for security that creates all this. You may also be afraid of forgetting the person as you go about your life. The presence of the suffering is reassuring because it was brought about by loving the deceased. So if she/he leaves, does my love, my sincerity for him/her disappear too? If I laugh with others, is it not betraying him/her?
To integrate, to accept that the person is gone is not to forget him/her. He/she has integrated into your life in other ways than suffering. They can become a vector of strength, motivation and inspiration.
5- Revolt, aggressiveness
Like other emotions, the expression of aggressiveness is very badly perceived in the West. People around us often have difficulty accepting this type of behavior because they associate mourning with sadness. However, for various reasons, we can feel bitterness towards the deceased because he/she did not take care of his/her health or because we think that he/she abandoned us. As it is very bad to express this resentment towards a deceased person, we internalize this frustration of the unspoken, of the non-expressed and it is expressed by aggressiveness.
It can be directed towards oneself, one’s relatives, God…
Emotions are felt in order to be shared, even if it is well seen or badly seen. Behind every feeling, there is a reason. If it is not expressed, it shackles us and brings us down. “Don’t put obstacles in the way of the movement of pain. Let it ripen.” – Krishnamurti
6- Guilt and the search for meaning
There can be several types of guilt: unjustified guilt and justified guilt.
It is normal to feel responsible for the death of a person when we had no control over reality. Death brings us back to this feeling of powerlessness in the face of mortality. We look for meaning behind death. There is no clear answer, so we bring the cause back to the reality we know: ourselves.
“The work of mourning is more about asking questions than finding answers. (Manu Keirse)
There is also understandable guilt because the person had an indirect or direct role in the person’s death. This should not be confused with unjustified guilt or denial, as the person often needs a symbolic act of reparation to forgive themselves. This can be volunteering, writing down regrets/remorse on a piece of paper, recounting the facts… All guilt must be heard in order to be repaired. One cannot change one’s past but one can transform one’s feelings about the past.
Shame is the effect generated by an action that we perceive as having transgressed a norm, a moral, sometimes a promise. Depending on the relationship one had with the deceased, a new self-image is formed. This may be due to the impression of having failed to protect the person, of not having told him or her how we felt, of not feeling up to the task after his or her departure… It may be hidden under aggressiveness or guilt.
8- Depression, despair
These phases are recognizable by the intensity of the emotions. There may be obsessive thoughts that impose themselves on the mind. This can be memories with the deceased, phrases from the deceased… The purpose of these thoughts is to bring the head closer to the heart and to reconstruct the events experienced in order to regain control of reality. Telling and/or recalling memories allows you to heal the wounds and to integrate your story into your life.
In addition to dealing with the physical loss of the person, one must deal with the psychological loss that he or she represents. The moments of life shared, the emotions felt towards him and the feeling of comfort and security surrounding him, can lead to the desire to stay by his side in thought, to maintain a link with him.
9- Suicide Idea
It is quite common for the idea of suicide to come to mind. Its presence does not mean that one really wishes to die, it can symbolize the desire to stop the suffering felt or to find the security lost with the loved one.
If the idea persists and is accompanied by the monthlyization of the act, one must know how to ask for help. Sometimes the grieving process is painful and long. You get tired and need someone to lean on while you regain your strength.
It is difficult to imagine the grieving process because we go through a series of intense emotions that may surprise us. Society does not necessarily allow us to feel them. Nevertheless, we hope that through this article you will understand that it is normal to feel and to express. The work of mourning is not only sadness, it is not common, nor even easy.
There is no right way to live or survive grief. There is yours.
Keirse M., De Boeck (1998). Faire son deuil, vivre un chagrin: un guide pour les proches et les professionnels. Paris: Editions Lanoo.