Allowing Grief to Run its Course

grief symptomsImagine you have the flu. A coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, fever and body aches kind of flu.

You go to the doctor hoping for a prescription to get you out of your misery. Instead, the doctor says there is nothing that can be given – the flu must simply run its course.

I hate when this happens. When I go to the doctor and I’ve paid my copay, I hate leaving there with nothing to show for it but the sickness I walked in with.

I feel this way sometimes in counseling those who are grieving. While I know how important it is for the bereaved to speak, tell their story and be heard, I have also wondered how many times they’ve left thinking that for all our talking, their loved one is still gone, and nothing is going to change that.

So that’s where this flu analogy comes in. Because like a flu that needs to run its course, grief brings with it its own signs and symptoms.

They can include:

  1. changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  2. inability to concentrate or lack of focus
  3. irritability
  4. loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  5. feelings of isolation
  6. exhaustion

For most people, especially those in the early or acute stages of grief, these symptoms will look familiar. I will offer that for the most part, these symptoms are present with their highest intensity in the early days of a loss (recognizing that “early” is a relative term and that everyone’s timeline for grieving is different). Meaning, the hope would be that as a bereaved progresses and moves forward in their grief journey, these signs and symptoms should ease and soften.

Those who may be further along in their grieving often attest to this notion that “feeling better” means feeling more like themselves again. Their loved one will always be gone and the ache that goes with missing them will never leave. But their sleeping, eating, concentration, patience, and return to finding pleasure in their pastimes will slowly return.

For those who aren’t as far along, who are in the throws of the grief/flu that is still running its course? What would the doctor say?
We may not be able to cure the flu but there’s a lot we can do to manage the symptoms. For a sore throat? Drink tea. A bad cough? Try a lozenge. Stuffy nose? Use nasal spray or a humidifier….

You get the idea. In regards to the symptoms of grief, consider the following:

  1. Trouble sleeping? Try a change in your nighttime routine. Take a bath, lower the lights, try guided imagery, breathing exercises or soft music.
  2. Having a hard time concentrating? Limit multitasking. Even if you were the master of this before, consider doing everything one thing at a time. Make lists, delegate when you can, ask for help.
  3. Feeling irritable? Try yoga or meditation or a good old fashioned counting to ten. If the people you are feeling irritable with are close family or friends, try being honest. Let them know you are having a tough day. It’s harder to be annoyed with someone if they can offer you love and compassion in return.
  4. Grievers do better with a healthy amount of busy. But if the things that they used to enjoy no longer bring joy (perhaps because it’s something they did with the person they lost) it may be time to find something new. This is a tricky one. With limited energy, the bereaved may not feel very motivated to go out and find new activities or new people to do them with. Start small. Something local, something that has little time commitment. Ask friends what they’re into and maybe try doing it with them. Think about something you may have always wanted to try or have been meaning to do. If you don’t have the energy to do it now, doing some research or making a plan for the future can be enough to get you moving in the right direction.
  5. Feeling isolated? Again, a tough one, because being isolated doesn’t mean being alone. It can mean feeling alone with our closest friends and family. Usually because a griever feels that no one can understand what they’re going through. This is where finding good support comes in. A grief support group, a counselor, activities at church, or of course, making a connection with our online grief support group on www.griefincommon.com.
  6. Exhaustion. This isn’t the same thing as being tired. Exhaustion is the accumulation of overthinking, being overwhelmed, and not getting enough rest. Grieving a loss takes a lot of our mental energy, and in the midst of this we’re still expected to focus on work, family, bills, laundry. Sometimes it may feel like too much. Because exhaustion is typically caused by a combination of things, managing this symptom will involve much of what has been presented already. Focus only on what’s right in front of you. If a task you are handling feels like too much than take a step back and come back to it later in the day or even another day. Make time for yourself, schedule rest when you can, accept help when it’s offered.

In the end, what it takes to move toward healing is different for everyone. But a focus on managing the symptoms that accompany grief may give the bereaved a tangible plan and, perhaps for the first time in a long time, some sense that they could have a little control of their life again.

6 thoughts on “Allowing Grief to Run its Course”

  1. lost my mama and daddy amd baby sister within 14 months of each other. i just cant get thru this pain and hurt. lost alot of weight. dont sleep very much. nothing is right anymore. just sit in my mama’s chair and cry.. how do i get thru this and go on. my heart is just empty. dark and empty.

  2. I am 29, recently graduated medical school. I just started to go on interviews for residency. Then, my mom starts having chronic insomnia, odd mood issues, balance and memory problems….. Only 2 months later, she can’t swallow, see or speak. By that time, brain biopsy concluded CJD, which is untreatable. She dies 2 weeks later at hospice. No closure. I don’t even know if she ever knew she was dying. we were so close. She was my main supporter. She was by my side throughout my entire education. She always had advice and made sure I was okay. It is so scary to not have her anymore. We were so similar. No one thinks like me as much as she did. I always thought she would be there for me, when I start my career, get married, have babies, buy my first house…. I just can’t believe she won’t be there for those stepping stones in my life. My dad isn’t the same. I live with my boyfriend, who is super supportive and helpful, but it wasn’t his mom who died, so he could never fully understand what I am going through. I wake up nearly every morning with anxiety and stress-related nausea. Back when I worked (I quit), I was vomitting every morning. I think I am getting better now, especially since I don’t do much except go on residency interviews every other week or so. Even that takes a lot out of me. My mother was strong, and so am I. She taught me well so I know I will get through this, but right now I am at a loss. It had been a month and half since she died. She died Halloween weekend. Does anyone know how to get rid of the morning panic? Breathing/meditation/moving around doesn’t always work

    1. I just happened upon this comment and it reminded me a lot of my situation. I also lost my mom halloween weekend of 2018, when i was 20 years old. She was my biggest supporter and fan. She knew me better than anyone else and my dad was not even close to being the same. I do not know if you will see this but I would like to hear how you are doing now. I am sorry for your loss.

    2. Evening Ashelina,
      Thanks for leaving your comment on Grief in Common Self-Study because I just recently lost My Mom too, February 2020, who also lost My Mother March 2018; My Grandmother both of who I had close relations with growing up. Mine & My Mother’s relations only grew much much more stronger as an adult til her crossing. She wasn’t just My Mom, She is My Mommy; Caregiver, nurture nourishing me unconditionally with Love NO MATTER WHAT; She is & Always Will He My Bestie Best Friend Forever Now to Beyond All Beyond. Devastatingly Suddenly She was gone in a matter of hours after waking up one morning. 2-3 days before this tragic morning, my husband; & I were laughing; joking, talking singing etc… along with her over phone/text/social media where there was not even a slight hint of anything proportion she was not gooding well. I’ve only just begun grieving My Mom’s physical non-existence here with me because of circumstantial reasons outside of the on-slight World Wide Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020.

  3. I Lost my wife Feb 2nd 2020. She died suddenly and these symptoms of saddness hopelessness fear worry guilt and the what I did this or that. Most days I just feel like giving up. I’m 58 and feel like my life is over. I try and try but I miss her so much! Its now my disabled son and me he’s 19 but has functions as a 2yr old I love him and know the greatest gift she has left me is him. I still find myself getting worse. If You lost your husband and would like to share your story with me. Please do. bfiorellaroadblues@ymail.com

  4. I don’t know when it gets better. My Mom died November 2020 and it feels like it happened yesterday. I’ve read books on grief. I tried guided imagery, listening to ocean waves, painting…..etc. The incredible pain I feel when I think that I won’t see her again. I’m so sorry for everyone’s loss.

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