Coping With Grief and Death For the First Time
Grief isn’t an easy process to work through, no matter what age or how many times we’ve experienced it. But the first time, or the first memorable time, can often be the one of the most challenging points in our lives. Your emotions can be intense, or you might be feeling confused or that you’ll never feel whole again.
Being exposed to death for the first time, especially if it is somebody you love and care about deeply, can be an incredibly difficult experience. The intense sorrow that can come after losing somebody is something that everybody encounters in their lives. And the grief can feel overwhelming.
When we discuss grief, we talk about it with such gravitas; we are overcome with grief, we are grief stricken, as if grief is something that has taken us over. Often that’s exactly what it feels like; grief taking over your entire body, your thoughts, your emotions, your energy, even your appetite.
Grief isn’t an easy process to work through, no matter what age or how many times we’ve experienced it. But the first time, or the first memorable time, can often be the one of the most challenging points in our lives. Your emotions can be intense, or you might be feeling confused or that you’ll never feel whole again. Know that whilst grief will never truly leave us, we learn to live on and eventually thrive again, even if it doesn’t feel that way now.
Understanding your feelings about grief
When grieving, it’s important to know that the way you’re feeling or reacting is normal, even if that looks different to other people in your life. There is no singular way to mourn and everybody deals with death in different ways.
Often people talk about the 5 stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You might go through these in order, completely out of order, all of them at once or just one or two.
Denial often comes first, where you may feel shock, numb, and isolate yourself from people in your life who are further along their grieving process. Denial must be met head on, as it opens up the process of grieving and healing.
You might also be dealing with some negative self-talk about you and your ability to work through this difficult time. Acknowledge that thoughts such as 'I can't handle this' or 'I'm not strong enough' are just a story you are telling yourself. Observe these thoughts but know this self doubt is not a true reflection of your ability to heal.
Allow yourself time to face your feelings
It can be tempting to distract yourself from your emotions and carry on with life as normal, but these feelings have a funny way of popping up at the most unexpected moments. Accepting your feelings and giving yourself permission to grieve can help the process along. Take the time to mourn, away from responsibilities and distractions. You might be rushing around to plan a funeral, or simply feel guilty for taking time away from work or school to mourn.
Recognising the different responses to grief
Like we mentioned earlier, grief can be all-encompassing and feel like it’s taken over your body and mind. It’s quite common for grief to present itself in various different ways, so recognising what these responses are can help you work through your feelings.
Physical responses to grief
When you hear physical responses, your mind might immediately go to crying, which is a common response. Crying can come naturally for some, or might not happen at all for others, which is completely normal.
For me, I'm a natural cryer, and after lots of crying I tend to get pretty intense headaches. Some people lose their appetite when struggling through grief. Other people feel exhausted yet they can’t sleep, and even experience headaches, aches and pains and nausea.
When experiencing these responses, it’s okay to turn to medication for the headaches, pains and nausea. Looking after yourself can feel overwhelming but the basics like sleeping, eating and drinking water are vital at this time.
Social responses to grief
You might be inundated with kind messages of support and shared grief, but when dealing with your own grief these messages can feel overwhelming and difficult to respond to. It’s understandable that you might want to avoid going out or seeing people for a while, particularly if you would feel pressured to put on a brave face.
Alone time is important, but don’t isolate yourself away from close friends and family as this can be detrimental to your healing process.
Mental responses to grief
Feeling foggy, confused, losing your train of thought or living in a daze are all common responses when our mental wellbeing is compromised by grief.
Emotional responses to grief
You might think crying is an emotional response, but it’s actually the physical response to the emotion you’re feeling. Sadness, depression, guilt, blame, loneliness, even anger often manifest in the early, volatile stages of grief. As discussed earlier, it’s important to understand and recognise these emotions, but don’t feel bad or guilty about the way you feel.
Looking after yourself while you grieve
Some people rave about self care like it’s a miracle cure for everything, and whilst it is not, it can be extremely helpful to take gentle care of yourself while grieving for the first time.
Movement. Walking, stretching, and yoga are all excellent ways to move your body and exercise, but are not too strenuous where you may feel depleted afterwards.
Feel-good activities. It might be your favourite movie or book, getting out in nature, or even as simple as a long, hot bath. It’s important to keep up your regular self care routine when you’re not feeling your best.
Talking to friends and family. It might feel like the absolute last thing you want to do, but even regularly talking to one or two key people in your life can help with grief and reduce those feelings of isolation, especially if they’re going through the exact same thing as you.