Death and dying

Grief is paradoxical. In other words, when you feel most unhealthy you are probably fine. However, if you feel fine a lot of the time it could mean that your grief is being repressed. This means that it will come out in a distorted form down the road. When the grief becomes unhealthy it can be very scary, and even affect your physical or psychological health.

Absent grief
You don't really feel that different than before the loss. Yes, there are times when you feel on the verge of getting upset, but you stop it before it happens. You avoid sadness even when you are alone. It seems that you are doing fine, yet all you have done is drive the grief reactions underground. This method of dealing with grief will likely eventually affect your health because the buildup of stress is immense.

What to do: Open up a little on your own or with a friend. Do not let the pain scare you. It will pass if you let it out by talking or writing. Other things such as long walks can help as well.

Delayed grief
At the time of the loss you were very busy, and you have not slowed down since. Other times you simply crash and sleep for long periods before getting up and going again, nonstop. You may have had a few sad moments and thought you were over it. Then out of nowhere you have a very strong "wave of grief" where you feel intense feelings of sadness or anger or other emotions. You may have been shocked at the intensity of your upset, since you thought you were doing so well.

What to do: Slow down and allow yourself to feel upset from time to time. Keeping busy can be good, but it can also be a way of avoiding the hurt that comes with a loss. Consider how your parents dealt with grief. Were they open and supportive?

Prolonged grief
It has been over a year since the loss, yet too often you are still feeling very upset. At times, you have a sense that your grief is just getting worse, and this is scaring you. Most likely, you have not let go of the person who died or left, and there are some things you wish you'd said to them.

What to do: Write the lost person a letter and say all the things you did not get a chance to share while they were around. Let out your feelings as well. Try to forgive them for what they did to hurt you, then do something symbolic to let them go, such as reading the letter at a gravesite and then burning it.

Exaggerated ("stuck") grief
The normal flow of grief is like a roller coaster ride, with lots of ups and downs. If you are not experiencing this variety of emotion, your grief may be "stuck." In other words, one emotion is often distorted and you find yourself feeling it frequently, such as anger or depression. This could be happening because you are not accustomed to sharing your feelings openly, and you simply need to learn to do so. The other possibility is that you have unfinished business, as described above.

What to do: Allow yourself to open up more and see if you get some variety in your feelings. Think about unfinished business with the lost person and consider writing a letter.

Denis Boyd, MA, 
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team