April 14, 2012

Ask a Nurse: Good Grief

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

Good Grief.

Grief [greef] noun 1.keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.
2. a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.

Can there ever be such a thing as “good” grief? I think there can. Grief itself is a painful experience, not good in a “wow, that feels good!” kind of way. The alternative to not grieving is to not allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss. When this happens, feelings are bottled up inside and later develop into anger and/or depression. Grief in itself is not depression; it is normal and healthy to feel loss, sadness and pain over the death of a loved one, a family pet, a beloved friend. Grief sometimes turns into depression, though. If you are still crying and feeling extremely sad every day, have no appetite, can’t sleep or sleep too much, find no joy in doing activities you usually enjoy, and are isolating yourself a long time after your loss-you may have crossed the line into depression. It is hard to say how long is normal to grieve; sometimes it may take a year to feel like yourself again. You may never completely stop grieving over certain losses, but it should get better with time. If you or someone you know is having a hard time adjusting to a loss, it may be time to see your family doctor.

How do we grieve well? Here are some helpful tips on how to grieve in a healthy way, and what kind of things don’t work.

  1. Grief is work and takes time. Don’t expect to be done with the process of grieving in a weeks’ time, or even in a month; be patient.
  2. Share your feelings with friends and family members. Clergy and counselors are also great resources.
  1. Allow yourself to cry! Crying releases something inside of us that makes us feel better. Crying can help us acknowledge that something has hurt us, and help us to begin to heal.
  2. Journal your feelings. Writing your feelings down can help you not only express what you are feeling, but also help you process your journey of grief. You can re-read what you have written, see how your grief has changed over time, and evaluate if you are going in the right direction in your grief process.
  3. Don’t try to numb your pain with alcohol or drugs. Doing this may delay the grieving process, or even give you a new and harder issue to deal with than grief.
  4. Take care of yourself! Make sure you are caring for your physical needs, too. Eat healthy meals, try to get enough sleep, get some exercise. Try to keep to a routine as much as possible. Go for your regular medical and dental check-ups. Let your doctor know how you are handling your grief, they may have some great advice, or notice unhealthy coping mechanisms.

All of us will grieve at some time. Loss is a part of life. I hope these tips will help you when you experience the loss of a loved one.

Be Well,
Nurse Pam

Write to me at [email protected]

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