BY Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

All of us experience grief following the loss of a loved one. The tragedy of Easter Sunday would have brought home the sadness and bewilderment we experience when faced with a devastating loss.

Grief is a simple word used to describe our complex and often inexplicable reaction following the loss not only of a loved one due to death but also the suffering evoked by a loss of one’s home, health or possessions. Such a loss could involve a host of reactions that can be intense and unfamiliar, leaving us feeling helpless, frustrated, sad, confused and angry.

Generally, our first reaction to loss is disbelief and numbness. It may take a while before we start to feel the intense hurt that accompanies loss. We may be surprised that the world around us continues unchanged even when we know that ours has been shattered.

In the days and months that follow, some of the initial reactions will resolve as time goes by and we may pass through other stages of what psychologists call the ‘grief reaction.’ This encompasses denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

While some of us reach the stage of acceptance earlier, others may be find it difficult to move beyond anger or sadness. And we often find ourselves blaming someone for our loss. This usually abates as we come to terms with our loss but some of us may remain in a state of deep sadness or grief for months and even years.

After we’ve lost someone near and dear to us, we may experience situations like seeing our loved one’s face in a crowd of people or having dreams involving that person (this is quite common). Sometimes we may be overcome by an immense feeling of sadness or cry when smelling a particular scent or hearing music that we associate with the person we’ve lost.

It’s also common after a sudden loss to imagine the ‘what if’ scenarios – and perhaps even experience a sense of guilt – and blame ourselves for the loss. Some bereaved people may even not want to live, feeling their life has lost its purpose.

Being depressed; withdrawing from family and friends; losing interest in the things one enjoyed in the past; and experiencing feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, worthlessness or guilt aren’t uncommon.

There are certain things we can do to help us cope with the grieving process until we’ve reached the stage of acceptance – almost all of us do reach that stage in the course of time, however hard it may appear to be initially. We need to recognise that out grief is a natural part of the healing process and give ourselves time to recover.

Grief cannot be cured by medication or alcohol; but talking to your doctor may help in the initial stages especially if you find it difficult to sleep.

It’s helpful to attend memorials and ceremonies held in remembrance of a loved one who has passed away as this enables us to meet and talk with others who may be feeling the same. And even though this may be difficult, it helps to talk with others who have experienced such a loss and grief.

In addition, it would be wise to seek help from family, friends and when necessary, healthcare practitioners or religious advisers.