Losing a loved one often leads to a rush of emotions, including grief, and we can sometimes find it overwhelming to cope with them.
Actress Jayley Woo, for example, posted a video on social media in August, which struck a chord with others dealing with grief. In the video, she had a ‘chat’ with her 24-year-old self and touched on how she handled the loss of her boyfriend, the late actor Aloysius Pang, who died in a military training accident in New Zealand in January 2019.
The loss of a beloved pet can be painful, too. In October 2020, actress Rui En shared via her fan club’s Instagram that she had been “alternating between feeling OK and breathtaking devastation” after her cat died. She later told 8 Days that the loss prompted her to seek grief counselling via Zoom with a counsellor from the US.
What is grief?
Dr Farah Idu Jion, senior psychologist at Sengkang General Hospital describes grief as “a process we go through when we experience a loss, with emotional responses that may range from sadness/tearfulness/sorrow to emptiness/hollowness, to betrayal, disappointment, guilt, frustration and even anger/hostility”.
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“It is a period when a person tries to make sense and meaning of the loss,” she adds.
Everyone reacts to grief differently. The intensity of such emotions varies from person to person, and also depends on the relationship with the person who has passed away as well as the circumstances surrounding their death. The amount of time needed to get through this is different for everyone, as are the emotions and behaviour that result from it.
How to identify grief
Nicholas Tan, clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, explains that the feelings associated with grief are typically that of anguish, regret and guilt. “These feelings may be accompanied by physiological distress, anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling on the past and uncertainty about the future. Intense grief can become life-threatening through self-neglect and suicidal thoughts.”
Dr Farah gives some examples of the impact of grief that someone might experience:
* They can become more withdrawn and lack the motivation to engage in activities such as work and school
* They may experience a loss of appetite and difficulties sleeping
* They may avoid people, places and activities that remind them of the loss
* They may even deny that the loss has happened (e.g. imagining their loved one has migrated to a different country)
* On the other hand, they may also become emboldened to partake in risk-taking activities (e.g. sky diving) or become more philosophical or reflective on their own life experiences and trajectories (and make unexpected changes)
“As grief responses are so varied, people around the bereaved may not know how to react or respond to them, and so may themselves become frustrated and confused about the situation,” she reveals.
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“Grief is not pathological and should be normalised as a process of acceptance and meaning-making following a loss. When grief is accepted as normal, people are more likely to fully allow themselves to participate in the process without judgement and expectations to ‘get over’ their loss,” she adds.
The five stages of grief
If you’ve ever researched the process of grief, you’ll know that it involves five stages. Nicholas shares what they are:
- Denial – “This can’t be happening!”
- Anger – “Why is this happening?”
- Bargaining – “Please, I’ll do anything for this not to happen.”
- Depression – “It’s hopeless, I can’t do anything about it.”
- Acceptance – “I have come to terms with the loss.”
He adds that these ‘stages’ are not necessarily linear. For example, one may be shuttling between denial, anger and bargaining. Rather than thinking of each stage as something to be dealt with, it would be more helpful to see the grieving process as a whole.
Dr Farah also believes in this non-linear process and explains that it’s experienced differently from person to person. Factors taken into consideration include the bereaved’s personality and repertoire of coping skills prior to their loss (e.g. go-to activities, spirituality, attitude/beliefs about death). Access to social support from family members, friends and colleagues can contribute to the person’s grief experience too.