Dealing with grief and loss of loved ones

Dr Biju Sunny, Senior Consultant & Head of Department, Behavioral Medicine, Aster MIMS, Calicut

Loss of a loved one is an unpreventable event. It is a challenge that demands a reset mechanism after going through a devastating emotional state. The grieving process similar to healing of a wound after an injury, where the body and mind needs to rest.

Mourning the loss is necessary. There may be a constant feeling of sadness and hopelessness that life will be different, a constant pining for the person, things in the surrounding being a reminder of the deceased and/or vivid dreams about them. This emotional turmoil can also get complicated due to misperceived guilt and suicidal thoughts. Appetite and sleep can become distressed. In the elderly there can be symptoms of worsening memory and functioning, increasing the risk of missing out on medications, chances of falling down, suicide attempts among others.

Duration of the grieving process is unpredictable and varies from person to person. However, it is considered to be prolonged when it goes on beyond 6 months. The entire purpose of grieving is to achieve a new equilibrium for the next phase of life.

For this restructuring, some important aspects need to be taken care of:

  1. Relationships that offer care and help: After the death of a closed one, the role of joint and extended family becomes very important. The bereaved must always have someone to talk to. Just being there with them or attending to their needs may be enough. The loss of a family member is shared by multiple people within the family. Staying and being together during such times helps speed the recovery process. This kind of bond or relationship can also be seen among friends, hostel mates, roommates etc. Whoever it may be, it is essential for one to surround themselves with people whom they feel comfortable sharing their grief with and those who can help them grieve and recover.
  1. A model (spiritual/religious) to understand 'Loss' at a larger context: This is necessary for integrating & accepting the loss of a dear one. Earlier, elaborate rituals at homes, places of worship or processions on the streets were a norm. They would give a psycho-social meaning and helped in the processing of grief. Today, the bereaved may have to cope-up alone, mostly within social confinements of their own house. So, the "what", "why" and "how" of the loss needs to be assimilated in a more personal manner. Family & friends can help with honoring the dead, celebrating events in their memory and reminiscing about the times spent.
  1. Self-care: The death of a dear one can affect physical as well as mental health. During this time, it becomes even more important to take care of the body. Ensuring intake of adequate and proper food, drinking plenty of fluids, keeping medications and hospital visits under check will help.
  1. Motivation: Grieving the death of a loved one can lead to people feeling demotivated and losing interest in their own lives. Therefore, it is very important that people around them including family, friends and colleagues provide gentle feedback and appreciations about small, successful changes that the person is bringing into their life, reminding them about life beyond loss and their commitment to other relationships in their life.

However, if there is a significant change in sleep pattern, feeling disturbed along with prominent guilt, suicidal thoughts, agitation or any other unusual behavior, one should seek help from a medical professional.

Aster’s Serenity App can act as your friend in coping with extreme anxiety, stress or any sort of mental illness.