I realize death is a part of life and none of us can escape dying. However, nothing could have prepared me for the profound amount of loss, grief, and sadness I felt when my beloved maternal grandmother died 21 months ago, an uncle 19 months later, and a close friend last year to breast cancer. Intense sadness, loneliness, and anger are some of the feelings and emotions that I experienced during the grieving process.
I was my grandmother’s primary caregiver and her medical power-of-attorney. I spent many hours and nights in the hospital with my grandmother throughout several illnesses that were a direct result of poor food choices. Each time my rambunctious grandmother would get admitted into the hospital, she always came back home. I was always able to nurse her back to health with clean healthy foods, moderate exercise, and by ensuring she took all of her medications. However, I knew in my heart that her very last emergency room visit was unlike any other. My sweet Grandmother died in the hospital from renal failure and her son (my uncle) died 18 months later.
Watching a loved one die, losing multiple family members and a close friend in less than two years is one of the most difficult things that I have ever experienced. I have learned there isn’t anything you can do to prepare yourself for the overwhelming feelings of grief and sadness. I also learned there isn’t a timeframe when you stop missing your loved ones or stop feeling sad. You must allow yourself the time to go through what you are feeling inside. During the first year of my grandmother’s death, I had really bad days and often did not make it out doors due to the gut-wrenching sadness and loss that I was feeling.
What I have learned from the healing process is the more you love someone, the greater the grief will be! Grief and mourning are normal and we must allow ourselves the time to mourn and feel all of the intense feelings that come with the loss of loved ones. There were times when I thought about my grandmother and laughed because I thought of one of the many funny stories she told me. Other times, the intensity of the grief I felt was physically overwhelming. This was especially true if I listened to one of her voice mail messages that I saved on my cell phone.
The Healing Process
The healing process is a personal journey and each person will endure various highs and lows, as well as a range of feelings and emotions when they lose a loved one. However, never allow anyone to disregard how you feel or make you feel like you should no longer be sad or still grieving. I have learned that grief can be unpredictable! Also, there isn’t a fixed time or date when you will stop grieving. In fact, some people may never get over the loss of losing a loved one and may continue to experience a range of emotions and life disruptions for many years. This type of prolonged grief is known as Complicated Grief Shear (2012).
Complicated grief can be described as prolonged and intense feelings of grief that also includes a strong longing for the person who died (as cited in Shear, 2012, p. 4, para. 6). The intense feelings associated with complicated grief can begin to interfere with regular life activities, work, and personal relationships Shear (2012). If for some reason you are unable to have good days sprinkled in with sad days or become so depressed that you cannot seem to get back to your normal routine, you should seek professional help. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you have intense grief and problems functioning that don't improve at least one year after the passing of your loved one (MAYO Clinic, 2017, para. 6). Professional therapists and mental health professionals are trained to help people cope with grief and process the range of feelings and emotions that come along with losing a loved one. Also, finding a counselor can be as easy as calling your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), primary care doctor, or finding a bereavement group at your place or worship.
I work in the public health field and knew that not dealing with my feelings could significantly jeopardize my mental and physical health. I am so glad that I allowed myself to cry when I felt very sad, sleep when I felt depressed, and exercise or do yoga when I needed to change my mood. I encourage everyone to tell loved ones, family, and friends when you are sad or depressed. Your family and friends can provide you with support by listening to how you are feeling, which can help to lift your mood.
In time you will definitely start to feel better and accept the death of your loved one. It is very important to be patient with yourself. Acknowledge what you are feeling. If you start to feel sad, try doing something that makes you happy like listening to music or singing your favorite song. My lifeline was yoga, teaching yoga, meditation, and exercise. Exercising, meditation, weight training, and yoga were like a refuge for me. Once I turned on my iPod and started moving, I was able to escape from my sad feelings. Remember, the overwhelming feelings from grief will not last forever and the time it takes to heal from losing a loved one is unique for each person.
Five steps to help you heal from grief
- Take one day at a time
- Be honest with how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to cry or be angry
- Let family and friends know when you need support
- Seek professional help or join a bereavement group if you are unable to get back to your normal routine or have prolonged sadness or depression
- Find an activity to do that will help change your mood like listening to music, meditation, exercise, or hanging out with friends
The grieving process can be long, difficult, and painful. Hopefully, the memories you have of your loved one(s) can help you feel lighter. Eventually, in your own time and your own way, you will begin to heal.
Mayo Clinic. (2017, October). Complicated grief. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/symptoms-causes/syc-20360374
Shear M. K. (2012). Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway and course of complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(2), 119–128.
Rechà Bullock is a Certified Wellness Practitioner, Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist, Fitness Instructor, Health Coach, Yoga Teacher (200-RYT), Yoga for Cancer Teacher, public health professional, and plant-based foodie. Her passion for health and wellness comes from a lifelong love of fitness, health, nutrition, yoga, and a desire to help people transform their health by eating foods that are nutrient rich.