Grief we could call, primarily, an emotional reaction to the loss of a loved one through death. Here are some of the symptoms:
-Profound sadness – I met a man in old age, who had lost his wife to a prolonged illness. And he would say, “Everything reminds me of her – everything I do, everything I see everywhere I go, everything I eat, even. I miss her so much.” And he was a very sad person.
-There’s also something called separation distress that’s a part of grieving. The bereaved person will experience separation distress, which is a normal response to grief. They’ll wander around the house, looking for the missed person. Or, they will obsessively dwell on the loved one – somewhat like the man I just mentioned. They are preoccupied with the person who has died and seek reminders of them, and are aroused and continually focused on the lost loved one. It’s been likened to the loss of a limb in surgery. For example, when a person has an amputation, sometimes it feels like the limb is still there. They call that phantom limb pain. People, sometimes, wander around the house looking for the lost loved one, and the sense is, they should be there.
-Another thing that happens is depression. Since depression happens when we suffer loss, grieving people often get depressed. There’s a lot of good research that came out of Columbia University some few years ago about grief. And they learned that people can overcome grief, usually, in from six months to three years without therapy. Sometimes therapy can even make it worse. The exception to all of this is when the loss is traumatic. And we’ll go into detail about this kind of loss in a few minutes.
-There are some other less frequent manifestations as well:
o Physical pain can be a part of it. One of the three women I worked with suffered sever upper back pain and that diminished as she passed through her greiving. Another while we were doing EMDR, would feel pain that would jump from place to place in her body — her elbow, her foot, her back — different places.
o Also, emotional numbing can be a part of it — you know, “Oh well, hard things happen. We just have to keep moving forward,” people say. Or people often ask me, “Why can’t I cry aobut it? Everybody was crying at the funeral but me. Don’t I cre?” Well, this is called emotional numbing. It’s kind of like shock for the body. We don’t feel the pain as a defense against the wound. People that are worried about this can think of numbing as a proof of love and the pain of loss.
o This might surprise some folks, but hallucinations are quite frequently a part of grieving. After my father died, my mother would sit in her chair, look over at my father’s chair and see him sitting there. Pragmatic woman that she was, she switched the chairs and sat in his chair, and that stopped it.
o Delusions also. A friend of mine, who lost his son in an accident at school, said that after that, for two years, every time he would hear an ambulance, he would think his other son had died. These are caused by the stress of loss and not mental illness. Delusions and hallucinations can be caused something as physical as a high fever, or, in this case, caused by a person’s anxiety from the losses they’ve incurred. It doesn’t mean that they’re going crazy or they’re going to become schizophrenic, or something like that. Once the anxiety goes down, brain function returns to normal. One woman would see people wearing her daughter’s three favorite colors and she would believe that her daughter, who was a mischievous girl in life, was teasing her. Some people believe it’s not good to go along with delusions, but I could see clearly that this comforted this woman and that she needed to do it, so I would say, “When you see those colors, it feels so good. It feels like you and your daughter are near to each other – like she’s nearby – and that you have a connection with her.” And I also noticed that, as she recovered from the grief, these events occurred less and less frequently.