Coping during the first weeks of grief and bereavement
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Although everyone’s personal reaction to bereavement is different, most teens and adults experience some of the physical and emotional responses listed below when someone close to them dies:
While these emotions normally occur, however, some of these responses may be experienced for differing lengths of time, depending on the individual. The main initial response to a death – even one that has long been expected – are disbelief, shock, and sometimes anger. In the normal progression of grief these lessen in time. But before they lessen, grieving people often feel a sense of guilt, anxiety, depression or despair. They may also feel an acute sense of longing for the dead person, hopelessness at the thought of their absence, loneliness and sadness at their loss or even a sense of relief that they are gone (which may, in turn, lead to feelings of guilt). These are a normal progression for grieving. Keep in mind this is the beginning of the process of letting go, of deep change.
Some physical symptoms experienced during bereavement can be quite acute and distressing so it is important to realize that these are normal parts of the grieving process and will pass in time. Physical reactions may include:
- Loss of energy and interest in everyday life.
- Inability to sleep or constant feeling of being tired
- Poor concentration and forgetfulness
- Loss of appetite or compulsive comfort eating
- An inability to cry or a tendency to continually burst into tears
- Nausea and/or diarrhea
- Headaches and unexplained body pains
Teens and adults react to death differently essentially because of hormonal age and environment. For teens the range of responses to normal grief which often show up in school and at home are
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the throat
- Dry mouth; dizziness
- Increased illnesses
- Sensitive skin
- Tightness in the chest
- Fighting with siblings
- Verbal attacks
- Poor grades
- Social withdrawal
The range of emotions may include increased use of drugs, alcohol, self-destructive physical behaviors (car accidents, cutting self, promiscuity).
What we can do to support adults and teens:
- Recognize that this death will change who you and the teen are forever.
- Practice and teach tolerance to your teen
- It’s important to be more open with your emotions
- Recognize the importance of peer relationships
- Respect your adolescent’s need to work through independently
- Include rituals which honor both life and death
- Assist yourself and your teen to come to terms with what happened…think of this as a matter of balance and time
There’s no formula for helping teens grieve a loss or for helping teens understand grief.
Words teens say they most don’t want to hear from others are: “I understand”, “it’s for the best”, “She/he’s gone to a better place” and other easy platitudes.