When Grief Strikes You

by James E. Miller

If you remember nothing else as you begin to grieve, remember this: you will grieve in your own unique way, unlike anyone else. And that is as it should be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Those around you may be full of ideas about how you’re supposed to grieve, and how not. You may be told that grief comes in clear-cut stages and you may even be given a name for the stage you’re supposedly going through. It’s important for you to be clear that this is your grief, not theirs. You’ll grieve in no one’s way but your own.

Grief can affect your mind and body.

Grief is about more than your feelings—it will show up in how you think. You may disbelieve this person actually died. You may have episodes of thinking like this even long after they died. Your mind may be confused, your thinking muddled. You may find it difficult to concentrate on just about everything. Or you may be able to focus your attention but all you can focus on is the one who died, or how they died, or your life together before they died.

Physical responses are also to be expected.

You may experience tightness in your throat, heaviness across your chest, or pain around your heart. Your stomach may be upset, along with other intestinal disturbances. You may have headaches, hot flashes, or cold chills. You may be dizzy at times, or tremble more than usual, or find yourself easily startled. Some people find it hard to get their breath.

You may undergo changes in your behavior.

You may sleep less than you used to and wake up at odd hours. Or you may sleep more than normal. You may have odd dreams or frightening nightmares. You may become unusually restless, moving from one activity to another, sometimes not finishing one thing before moving on to the next. Or you may sit and do nothing for long periods. Some people engage in what’s called "searching behavior"—you look for your loved one’s face among a crowd of people, for instance, even though you know they’ve died. You may become attached to things you associate with your loved one, like wearing an article of their clothing or carrying a keepsake that belonged to them. Or you may wish to avoid all such reminders.

Grief can affect your relationships and everyday activities.

Many grieving people want to spend more time alone. Sometimes they’re drawn to the quiet and safety they experience there, and sometimes it’s a way of dodging other people. Even venturing out to the grocery store, a shopping mall, or a worship service can feel uncomfortable. There are some people, however, who want to be around others even more than before.

You may find that you’re jealous of people around you who aren’t grieving. You may envy what they have that you don’t. You may resent how much they take for granted when you now realize that nothing should ever be taken for granted. You may become critical in ways that are unlike you. Fortunately, this shift is usually temporary.

Some grieving people report unusual happenings that are not easy to describe yet seem very real. You may be going about your daily life and suddenly have a sense of your loved one’s presence. Some people report having auditory or visual experiences related to this person. At times the loved one offers a message during a dream or time of meditation. Try not to worry if something like this should happen to you once in a while. Such experiences are more common than you might think.

 

This writing is taken from Jim Miller’s popular little book One You Love Has Died: Ideas for How Your Grief Can Help You Heal. In six short chapters he explains the grief process to someone who is actively grieving and offers specific, practical suggestions for how they can make their way through this significant time. You can learn more about this resource here.