Family self-care


The grieving process is a universal psychological process associated with the loss of someone or something dear to you.

Each individual’s manner of coping with grief is unique, shaped by previous experiences and culture context of dealing with loss.

What is grief

The grieving process is a universal psychological process associated with the loss of someone or something dear to you. Each individual’s manner of coping with grief is unique, shaped by  previous experiences and culture context of dealing with loss.

No one knows how to react to loss until it happens and they are confronted with and experience it. It is at this point that we experience a change of emotional and physical feelings and reactions that are difficult for us to comprehend, accept and  to deal with. Loss following the death of a loved one or major life events can cause grief and mourning.

The mourning will also be experienced by the other members of the family: grandparents, brothers, close friends, etc. However,as already discussed above, every person is unique and might experience loss differently, express their grief and emotions differently. Thus, because grief is unique to every person there is no one right way to mourn or to grieve. Healing or grieving after the loss of a loved one will depend on the person’s circumstances  and the support received, among different other factors.

Common reactions to grief

Grief may result in different reactions in the suffering person such as physical discomfort, different or confused feelings, intrusive thoughts that do not disappear or lead to an inability to function normally.

Physical reactions

That may occur during grief include: headache, heart palpitations, empty stomach, tightness in the throat, chest tightness, hypersensitivity to noise, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, low energy and dry mouth. To rule out physical problems not related to grief, consult your doctor if some reactions persist over time.

Emotional reactions

Commonly experienced emotions in grief are: sadness usually expressed through crying, anger and feelings of frustration, lack of control and denial about what happened, guilt and self-reproach (feelings of guilt for believing you didn’t do enough. Normally, feelings of guilt are irrational in nature and are mitigated by confronting reality), anxiety (feelings related to fear and anxiety. If it persists in time, is the significance of pathological grief), fatigue or apathy, state of shock, relief (whether the medical process has been long or painful) and insensitivity (an emotional block occurs. This mechanism protects against the instability provoked by the loss)

Cognitive reactions-thoughts

That are generated around the bereavement could be: disbelief or denial (are the first thoughts that appear. “No, I can’t believe this happened”), confusion or difficulty in ordering thoughts and making decisions, worry (thoughts related to the worry of what will come. Repetitive thoughts about recovering the baby are also associated) or passing illusory experiences sometimes occur .

Seeking an answer to what has happened and getting closure with regards to the loss/demise are ways to displace the pain. Although this might not help victims deal with their pain after loss, it is a natural process of resolution to loss that needs to happen. You may experience a variety of emotions such as anger, guilt, sadness and helplessness among others. It is important to be able to openly express these feelings with people around you.

Expression of emotion and thoughts about the loss, such as sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness, guilt, relief, isolation, confusion, or numbness, is facilitated by expressing these feelings. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Putting your feelings into words will help ease your pain. During the grieving process, people around you who want to help you or yourself may think it’s convenient to make changes in your life, such as throwing away your loved one’s things or moving things in the house or indeed moving to another house. Don’t make premature decisions, you may not be ready yet.

People who are grieving  can sometimes suffer from depression. It is important to understand that depression and grief are two different things. Bereavement is a natural and normal process characterised by grief  in which the pain gradually over time diminishes. Whereas depression is a disease that is characterized by deep sadness which persists over weeks or months.  People who are suffering from depression may show the following pattern of behaviours:

  • Feeling of deep sadness most of the day, nearly every day
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions

Depression can only be treated by professionals.  So if you are experiencing the feelings listed above or if feelings of sadness persists for a period of time, we recommend that you contact your doctor immediately or visit the nearest hospital for assistance.

The loss of a child can be emotionally and rationally intolerable. For many people it is often an unexpected event to experience. This sometimes may cause us feel that the people around us do not understand the pain and anguish experienced with the death of a child. This feeling of not being understood can intensify the emotional disbalance.

False myths around grief
“Expressing your pain will hurt you”

The expression of pain will not hurt  more than it will hiding it. Pain is part of the process, and feeling and expressing it are necessary aspects of grieving and healing.

“Pain is a sign of inadequacy and weakness ”

Pain is necessary and intrinsic to the loss. All human being experience loss, thus it is not a sign of weakness to express our loss and the pain we feel.

“The first year is the worst”

There is no set period for grieving and it may carry on for longer than a year or come in waves.  This “going back” does not mean getting worse. it is part of the natural process of improvement into the future, and it is a sign of exit from shock.

“Expressing your pain hurts others”

This Is not true, because, sometimes, expressing pain also allows others to express theirs, encounter the pain and empathise. In this myth there will be an exception, and it will be that of not expressing the pain in an overflowing way in front of children or adolescents. It is important to avoid overflowing in front of them, because for minors, adults are considered as reference figures, who must be stronger to be able to support them emotionally. If the adult cannot support the child, it will generate feelings of instability and even force the child to be the one who must care for the adult. Pain can be shared with younger children but should be avoided at times when it is not controlled.

“You have to get rid of the significant objects of the baby”

It is not true that it is necessary to get rid of all this quickly.  On the contrary, there are people who may keep belongings for years as a way of cherishing memories. In some cases, parent(s) might get rid of significant objects and, over time, regret doing so hastily. There are no rules regarding how to go about this and it is dependent on the choice of each individual and family.

Duel tasks
Assuming the reality of loss

The moment of shock involves a number of elements that we already know: feelings of confusion, feelings of unreality, emotional overflow, cognitive overflow (thoughts) and physical repercussions.

Elaborate the emotions related to grief

According to Bucay[1] , “Grief/loss  hurts and nothing can be done to prevent it”.

Pain defines the emotional experience after a loss and is characterized by  grief. We remember that all emotional reactions are adaptive and necessary.

Learn to live with loss.

This is the most complex stage. It means redefining our identity. We assessed the relationship to our loss, what I lost from me to her. In this task the mourner will have to identify the lost roles, and if any, the new roles he will have to assume.

Quoting Bucay again, “Possibly there is a course, surely and in many ways personal and unique; possibly there is a course, surely and in many ways the same for all. There is a safe course and somehow possible.”

Emotionally reposition the experience. Live on

It does not mean forgetting our loved one, but being able to live with the past in order to live in the present. This step cannot be done without having done the previous tasks (assume reality, elaborate emotions, adaptation to day to day).

During the grieving process our loved ones will give us advice. Sometimes, these tips are very pressure-oriented. That you must recover well, that you move on quickly and do not dwell on the loss.  It’s okay to listen to these tips from well-meaning people, like the ones we are giving here, but the process is individual for each person.

Listen to everyone, look at the advice from your emotions and thoughts and do what you think is good for you. It is important that everyone does  what feels right to them at every moment.

Practical guidelines for the bereaved person
What can we do?
  • Not looking too much? into the future.
  • Focus on the present and feel your emotions. .
  • Physical activity: walking, sports? mindfullness? yoga?
  • Activities that will anchor you to reality and day to day life: cooking, cleaning? up around the house, buying groceries, reading, watching TV, shoppingand caring for the pets of the house.
When should I seek help?

Inthe process of grief, pain, anguish and other feelings are not “abnormal”, there are some symptoms that indicate that you should consult a professional:

  • Intense feelings of guilt
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Extreme despair
  • Prolonged restlessness or depression, feeling “trapped” or slowed for several months
  • Physical symptoms: substantial weight loss, acute chest pain
  • Uncontrolled anger that leads to isolation
  • Continuous difficulties functioning at work or in the tasks of daily life
  • Substance abuse to eliminate the pain of loss

If you identify these symptoms, see a grief professional who can support you and guide you in the process.

The role of family and loved ones

It is important to know that not all family members will perform the tasks at the same time or in the same order. family and loved ones may prefer to avoid the pain of grieving person’s experiences, by distracting them from focusing on their loss or indeed the anger that they feel. This behavior unfortunately may leave the griever feeling alone and isolated.

The baby’s non-nuclear family (grandparents, uncles, cousins), as well as dearest friends can play an important role. However, it is important to recognize that a family cannot relieve another person’s suffering is crucial. The family’s role as a source of great courage and comfort,  is to support the griever while they vent their terrible emotions. Expressing emotions such as  pain and the anger associated with the loss usually results in sense of relief at a burden lifted and that they are not alone in feeling this way.

What can we do as companions?
  • Listen to the griever
    Encourage the person to accept the reactions of grief as a necessary and adaptive part of this process. Any thought, emotion or physical reaction is absolutely normal and the griever needs to be encouraged to express these emotions.
  • Open doors to communication. Ask open-ended questions. If you don’t know what to say, ask, “How are you today?” or “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?”
  • To advise the griever not to make important decisions (economic, labor, relational) during this phase as doing so could lead to failure or disaster with no opportunity to reverse
  • Listen, welcome, give support, remain silent… accompany
  • Offer concrete help and take the initiative to call the person. For example, taking care of another child’s night, helping with some paperwork, etc
  • Talking about your own losses and how you adapted to them if the griever is open enough to hear these stories.