What is loss?

Virtually all of us will suffer loss throughout our lifetime. Loss is an inevitable result of having meaningful relationships and attaining meaningful achievements in our lives.

The grief that often follows loss is never easy. However, getting the right kind of support can make the process of grieving healthier and less painful, and pose less danger of causing long-term harm to the grieving person.

There is a range of experiences of loss that can include:

  • The death of someone close to you;
  • Breakdown or change in a relationship, such as separation or divorce;
  • Losing your job (being laid off or demoted, or retiring);
  • A family separation or change - this can include friends or family moving away; 
  • Miscarriage or infertility - the loss of a child, or an inability to have children, and;
  • Loss of health - the deterioration of health through illness, disability or ageing.

What is grief?

Significant loss is often accompanied by grief. People experience grief in different ways, but some common reactions include:

  • Shock, sadness or a feeling of numbness;
  • Anger, regret or guilt;
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless;
  • Isolation and fear of being alone;
  • Disbelief and denial of your loss;
  • Yearning for the return of what was lost, and;
  • Confusion, distress and difficulty making sense of your loss.

A woman grieving.Feelings of helplessness and sadness are common reactions to loss. 

How people grieve

Everyone grieves differently; there is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people grieve in private, while others are open about their grief.

Examples of grieving privately include:

  • Writing your thoughts down in a journal;
  • Exercising to release pent-up emotions;
  • Trying relaxation techniques, such as meditation or massage;
  • Creating a memorial to commemorate your loved one, or developing rituals, such as lighting a candle or listening to certain music, and;
  • Drawing on philosophical, spiritual, or religious beliefs.

Grieving with other people may reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness often associated with grief. Examples of grieving with others include:

  • Talking to family and friends and sharing memories and thoughts about the loved one you have lost;
  • Joining a support group of people who have experienced loss in similar situations;
  • Accepting the help of others;  
  • Taking part in shared ceremonies or rituals that are meaningful to you, and;
  • Talking to a counsellor about your situation and discussing different ways of managing your grief.

Getting help

With support from family and friends, most people are able to deal with their loss. However, sometimes circumstances around your loss can be particularly difficult to come to terms with. In those cases, you may wish to seek professional help, especially when:

  • You do not have a supportive network of family and friends;
  • You find you are not able to carry out your daily activities;
  • Your relationships are negatively affected;
  • You suffer from physical symptoms, including headaches, nausea, or vomiting;
  • You experience anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm or suicide;
  • You are abusing alcohol or other drugs, or;
  • You feel you need help to cope with your loss.

A woman talking to a psychologist.Counselling can offer support during loss and grief. 

Anxiety

A feeling of tension, nervousness and dread about future events. It can trigger physical symptoms such as a rapid pulse or breathing difficulties.

Helping others through grief

Supporting a person who is grieving is not easy. There may be times when it feels like your support is not appreciated, or times when you yourself are experiencing difficulty in one way or another while still trying to 'be there' for the grieving person.

If you know someone experiencing grief, you can help in a number of ways such as:

  • Keep in contact, even when it feels like you are not helping;
  • Acknowledge their loss and let them know you are there for them;
  • Invite them to events, if they are appropriate, but understand that they may decline;
  • Make yourself available to listen, even when you have already heard what they are saying;
  • Remember there are times when grief is more intense, such as on anniversaries or other special days, and that your contact and support during these times is helpful;
  • Organise activities that provide an opportunity to talk, such as a phone call or going out for coffee;
  • Encourage them to talk about their loss, but do not encourage them to 'move on'; 
  • Remember it might take months before the numbness that loss can cause wears off, and grieving feelings can finally surface;
  • Stay with them even if they are crying or expressing other strong emotions. This can help them through their grief, and;
  • Take care to not over-extend your own resources. Helping a person through their grief can be a draining experience. Offer all the help and support that you can - but not more than that.