By Laurie Montoya, President and Founder of BikerDown Foundation
Few days cause a family member to pause, more than a holiday, anniversary, or an awareness day such as today. It makes you think of a family member who is no longer with you, and within minutes, it can cause them to reflect back on their grief. When a loved one passes, the responsibilities required can cause family members to run on adrenaline and not properly grieve. It is one of the reasons that friends will say they are holding up so well. They are because they aren’t allowing themselves to feel because it doesn’t feel real.
The real challenge begins after the funeral, and friends and family have returned to their daily grind, which is their lives. Family members are left with their memories, the silence of their home, and the realization that family members will never come stomping in the house again.
Loss can be among the most challenging human experiences an individual faces. Whether you’ve lost a loved one or something you valued, coping with grief is seldom easy. National Grief Awareness Day on August 30th of every year is designed to raise awareness about the experience of grief. While grieving is expected for almost everyone, the intense emotions accompanying it are often less anticipated. While everyone grieves differently and on their own timeline, we can often use similar methods to care for ourselves while we heal.
National Grief Awareness Day provides an opportunity to explore the characteristics and effects of grief. We’ve also highlighted methods like online therapy that can help you cope with loss.
There are several stages to the grieving process, and everyone moves through them uniquely. Some people might go through all the stages, while others may only experience a few. The stages of grief include:
Grief may feel all-consuming and make it hard to carry out daily activities. But allowing yourself to feel your emotions can help you experience the stages and move through them toward healing.
How Long Does Grief Last?
People heal from grief at their own pace. There’s no set timeline for how long the grieving process should last or how much time is too much.
Grief may come and go over the years in little or big waves, or you might experience it all at once. When waves hit, it isn’t a sign of moving backward but a normal part of grieving.
While almost everyone grieves differently and for varied lengths of time, research shows that most people experience a peak in their symptoms at the six-month mark, particularly after the death of a loved one.
Effects Of Grief
Grief can affect your physical and mental health in small and more significant ways. Symptoms might be physical, emotional, or behavioral. Below are some unseen effects of grief, broken down by category.
Weight change, tension throughout the body, and sleep issues are all potential symptoms of grief. You may experience weight loss from being unable to eat, or you may overeat and gain weight. Stress may cause your shoulders to tighten and tense throughout the day, leading to pain. Insomnia might keep you up at night, or you may find that you oversleep or can’t get out of bed in the morning.
Depression, guilt, anxiety, anger, and loneliness are all common emotions experienced by people who have lost someone or something important to them. You may have a time when you deny the loss as a subconscious way of trying to defend yourself.
During this time, your emotions might feel numb. However, once you move past the denial stage, all the feelings you were holding in might come out at once. Moving rapidly from one emotion to the next is normal, and it usually helps to let yourself feel each of them. Since everyone feels different things during their grief, no emotion is abnormal or something to be ashamed of.
If you’re grieving, some behavioral effects you might notice are forgetfulness, talking a lot about who or what you lost, withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities, and worrying more about other people. You might be unable to concentrate on whatever is in front of you, leading to forgetfulness as you move throughout the day. Talking about what you lost or telling stories about memories with your loved one is also common.
If you’re experiencing depression, you may withdraw from hobbies or interests you once had. The energy needed to participate in these activities might not be there. In addition, if your grief causes you anxiety, you may begin to worry about the safety or well-being of your other loved ones. After all, you don’t want to lose anyone else.
Helping A Loved One Who Is Grieving
There are many ways to support a loved one who is grieving or coping with loss. You might fear you’ll say the wrong thing or have nothing to say, but you don’t have to let that stop you from reaching out. People experiencing grief often need others more than usual. Here are some ways you can help them through their feelings and be a supportive person in their life.
Listen More Than You Speak
Let your loved one talk through their feelings, whether that means crying, telling stories about whom they lost, or venting. Or, sometimes, your loved one may want to sit in silence.
Being present and allowing the conversation to go in any direction is often the best approach. Your presence may mean more than you realize and can bring comfort, safety, and healing. It can also be difficult for them to open up, so creating a safe space where they can be angry with the loss that day or sad will help them open up more and get those emotions out. Sometimes, It is hard to tell family or friends that you are feeling angry that your loved one is gone and that you are mad they left you. They feel they always have to put a brave face on and not show their emotions.
People who are grieving might feel unable to complete daily tasks or perform everyday activities. You may be able to help by asking your loved one their needs at that moment. Not everyone will need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Bringing a home-cooked meal, taking out the trash, or watching the kids for a few hours might help the most. Years later, they are still grieving and might occasionally need someone to get them out of the house and let them talk about their loved ones.
Ask How They’re Doing
It can be easy to make assumptions about how a loved one feels, especially if you know them well. However, the grieving process is unique, and emotions can change. So rather than assuming someone is okay or struggling, you might ask them. They may not be ready to open up, but their response may help indicate their feelings. It is sometimes uncomfortable to ask someone how they are, but sometimes more uncomfortable hearing what they might have to say. Understand that they are still going through a tremendous loss and might have been left with struggling financial worries, children to raise, housing issue, and the knowledge that they have to put one step in front of another, just to get through the day.
Help Them Get Extra Support
Sometimes, your loved one may need more support than those in their life can offer. For example, if they’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, it could be time to see a mental health professional. And you can be there to encourage them to reach out for help.
You could also drive them to their first therapy session or help them financially afford therapy. While you don’t have to give beyond your means or put yourself out, even little things can mean a lot.
Take Care Of Yourself
You cannot pour from an empty cup and caring for yourself while helping your loved one is healthy. So take time out for yourself, do things you enjoy, and lean on your friends or family for support. The better you help yourself, the better you can help your grieving loved one.
Give It Time
Since there’s no set timeline for grieving, your loved one may experience grief for longer than expected. And they may still need your support in the following days, weeks, and months. You might want to reassure your loved one that you’re not going anywhere during this time.
Specific days or times of the year might also be more challenging for them. However, showing genuine concern and care may help them heal and move forward. And while their grief may never disappear completely, you can be someone who encourages them to keep going.
On behalf of BikerDown Foundation, we are there to help families that are suffering a tremendous loss. If you know of someone who might benefit from our assistance, please do a help request at www.bikerdown.org.