Coping with Grief and The Loss of a Loved One

An older woman holding a tissue to her eyes while walking with a man wearing a white shirt and black tie

It’s an inevitable reality that, as we grow older, we have to deal increasingly with grieving the loss of a loved one. More of our friends and family members pass away as we reach our 70s and 80s and at some point, half of us will lose our spouse.

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning. Here we take a look at grief: what to expect and how to deal with the loss of a loved one.

Why we grieve the loss of a loved one

Grief is the sense of loss we feel when we lose a loved one, a relationship, a pet or a job.

Grieving is an essential part of the healing process when someone we love dies. It allows us, after some time, to continue with our life while accepting the loss of a loved one.

Ignoring or rejecting the grieving process can lead to mental health issues and an inability to move on with our life.

What we feel when mourning the loss of a loved one

Just as every person is unique, so is the way each person mourns. However, there are a number of emotions and feelings that many grieving people experience, including:

  • Sadness
  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety

Initially, these emotions feel very extreme and can be even more so if the loved one died suddenly or in tragic circumstances. Usually, over time, the intensity of these emotions fades, but not before bringing about psychological and physical effects on the person grieving the loss of a loved one.

How grieving can affect you

Many people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one for the first time are unaware that it can cause physical as well as psychological symptoms.

The psychological effects of grieving the loss of a loved one can lead to short-term character changes. Those in mourning can become bitter and detached and also preoccupied with their loss.

For days and weeks, they can feel unable to experience joy of any sort and feel numb inside. It may be difficult for them to imagine what life will be like without their loved one. Mourning the loss of a loved one can also make the surviving spouse face up to their own mortality and search for meaning in life, often turning to spirituality for comfort.

One of the most worrying physical effects of grief and the loss of a loved one is of particular concern to retirees. Grief can weaken neutrophil white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off bacteria and infections. This could make the grieving person more susceptible to very serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, and is a greater risk the older you get.

Other physical symptoms when getting over the loss of a loved one can include stomach issues, headaches, backache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue and loss of appetite.

The consequences of being unable to overcome grief

Complicated grief disorder is a condition that comes about when those intense feelings of mourning the loss of a loved one do not fade at all, even after many months. It can be quite a common side-effect of grief, with as many as one in 10 people experiencing it.

People suffering from the disorder experience continuous and extreme emotional pain. They can have an unhealthy obsession with memories of their loved one or avoid any reminders of them. They struggle to accept the loss of their loved one and feel extremely bitter about losing them.

They can also reject regular social activity and neglect caring for themselves. The disorder can lead to a loss of trust in others and a general, stifling sense that life has no meaning for them.

Complicated grief disorder can bring with it some serious complications. These can include:

  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • A breakdown in existing personal relationships
  • Severe anxiety
  • An inability to hold on to their job
  • An increased risk of physical health issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure

Thankfully, there are numerous resources available to help cope with the loss of a loved one and avoid the consequences of complicated grief disorder.

Healing from the loss of a loved one

For most people, the support of friends and family, along with the passing of time, are essential for surviving the loss of a loved one. With this support, they can usually get through their grief and eventually return to their normal life.

When healing from the loss of a loved one, there are a number of steps that can ease the process:

  • Get regular exercise and eating often and healthily
  • Avoid using substances to deal with the pain
  • Allow yourself to let your feelings out – don’t suppress them
  • Remain sociable – continue to see friends and family
  • Talk about your feelings or write them down in a journal
  • Let your doctor know that you are grieving and if your health changes
  • Wait at least six months before making any big life changes: you may regret them and that could make the grieving process more difficult

You can also seek help from grief support programs. Organizations such as Bereaved Families of Ontario, BC Bereavement Helpline and Alberta Health Services can help you locate weekly support group meetings, one-on-one support and bereavement walking groups. If you are looking for this type of program, search online for “grief support groups” plus your town or city for resources near you.

If you find that you are not able to heal from the loss of a loved one, or fear that you may have complicated grief disorder, ask your doctor to refer you to a professional grief counsellor. They can help you to deal with the loss of your loved one, talk more freely about them, cope with your life changes and build a support system that can help you move through grief and return to your normal life.

Getting through the financial stress caused by the loss a loved one

Losing a loved one is difficult at the best of times. For many it can also be financially stressful as the surviving spouse has to cover the cost of a funeral and, in some cases, live on a reduced income.

The CHIP Reverse Mortgage® can help relieve financial pressures for those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Homeowners aged 55+ can cash in some of their home equity without having to make any regular mortgage payments. This way, it has no negative impact on retirement income.

Contact us at 1-866-522-2447 or try our reverse mortgage calculator to find out how much you could borrow.

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