How we react to loss (a general overview)
Before we look specifically at how we react to the death of our child, we take a moment to look at a general overview of common reactions persons experience in response to the death of a loved one. These grief reactions are quite normal and common when viewed against the backdrop of the grief experiences of many persons. When one understands that many other persons have also had similar reactions to grief, it brings about an assurance that fosters peace of mind. Getting the right kind of information about grief plays a crucial role in the overall process of recovery and healing.
1. Common physical reactions: Changes in body chemistry and bodily functions, rapid heartbeat and pulse, elevated blood pressure, difficulty in breathing (sometimes hyperventilation), dizziness (sometimes fainting), difficulty in swallowing and digesting food due to a constricted esophagus, complications with digestive track (nervous stomach, irritation, ulcers, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea), muscle cramps, aches, and spasms, profuse sweating, skin rashes and irritations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, over-sleeping, diminished or insatiable appetite, migraine headaches, frequent urination, and urinary track infections.
One of the typical physical reactions to the shock of loss is that there is an inordinate amount of adrenalin in the bloodstream. This is associated with the “fight or flight” syndrome that is voluntarily activated anytime the body senses threat or danger. When this happens the excessive adrenalin stimulates the heart to beat faster which in turn forces more oxygen into the bloodstream. This added oxygen and adrenalin can cause tingling in the extremities or lips as well as a jerking and shaking of the muscles or hands. One can experience temporary and uncontrollable involuntary shaking of the entire body, and unless one knows what is causing these kinds of bodily reactions, it can be quite alarming.
2. Common emotional reactions: Shock, numbness, disbelief, denial, anger, guilt, fear (panic, losing control, paranoia, and phobias), bargaining, depression, loneliness, emptiness, lethargy, irritability, and withdrawal. We feel that our world has suddenly fallen apart. Our normal feelings of safety, security, and stability are shaken and shattered, and this results in our feeling unsafe, insecure, and unstable. The basic foundations of our life are shaken. Much that helped to provide shape, definition, purpose, and continuity to our life has suddenly vanished. Life is thrown out of balance. We experience isolation and separation-anxiety. Life is suddenly changed and chaotic. That which is familiar and wanted is replaced by that which is unfamiliar and unwanted. We are overwhelmed by the depressing and upsetting thought that life will never be the same again.
3. Common mental reactions: Mental confusion (inability to concentrate, remember and plan), preoccupation with loss and the deceased, obsessions and obsessive-compulsive reactions, depression, replaying certain scenes and “freeze-frames” over and over in our mind, attempting to deny death and resurrect the deceased, visual and auditory hallucinations, attempting to recreate the past, regret, frustration over unfinished business, assigning blame, loss of humor, jealousy, bitterness, cynicism, pessimism, and negative thinking (doom and gloom). In the case of the murder of a loved one, it is not uncommon for survivors to think about seeking revenge.
4. Common social reactions: Withdrawal, pulling the shades, attempting to shut out the world, wanting to be left alone, escaping, drawing into a shell (grief cocoon), finding it difficult to be involved with other people, avoiding crowds, finding it difficult to function at work or take care of one’s basic responsibilities.
Many bereaved persons have observed that some persons avoid them following a loss or they avoid mentioning the name of the deceased to the bereaved person. They avoid mentioning anything in regard to the death of the deceased. These kinds of reactions can result in only reinforcing the isolation.
In contrast to this reaction of withdrawal, many persons become overly outgoing, active, and involved. For example, they may spend a lot of time in shopping malls or church activities. The idea of being alone at home is intolerable, and they find ways to avoid this.
5. Common spiritual reactions: Being angry with God and blaming Him for the death of a loved one. This often leads to a temporary withdrawal from God, prayer, and religious activities. Many go through a “dark night of the soul.”
In contrast to those who react by being angry with God and withdrawing from God, many say that the experience of grief brought them closer to God than they had ever been. They report that their grief opened the door into a deeper relationship with God.
Thus the positive side of this in regard to one’s spiritual experience is that grief can become an opportunity for the bereaved person to thoroughly and honestly examine their values and beliefs and move toward a more realistic, mature, and personal faith.
The impact of loss is so profound that it reaches to the very core of our being and affects every aspect of our life--physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.