Is My Grief Normal

Have You Wondered, Is My Grief Normal?

The quintessential question of most anyone facing grief might ask at one time or another: “Is my grief normal?” You are not alone! Almost everyone in grief will question something about what you feel, see, hear or expect and wonder if it is ever experienced by other people, too.

Your grief – your response to loss – can give rise to all sorts of emotional, physical, spiritual and social changes, particularly for the first few months after a death. These symptoms and changes can wax and wane over time. You may have some but not others.  They can creep up on you or overwhelm you. Why “normal” is so difficult to figure out is that we are all different with many variables of life and death circumstances. The good news is that even across long periods of time, most people go through grief with somewhat predictable patterns or common reactions to grief.

Here is a list of symptoms* often noticed after a death as well other types of loss. Caregivers to people with terminal illness, too, may show signs of grief in anticipation of an inevitable death.

Physical

-Hollowness in stomach
-Tightness in chest or throat
-Breathlessness
-Weakness in muscles
-Body aches and pain
-Dry mouth
-Lack of energy
-Oversensitivity to noise
-Sleep: too much or too little
-Appetite: overeating or not eating
-Sighing often

Emotional

-Sadness
-Anger
-Irritation or intolerance
-Guilt: what was, what wasn’t, happiness now
-Anxiety
-Loneliness
-Fatigue, exhaustion
-Helplessness
-Shock
-Yearning
-Relief: over suffering, pain
-Relief for freedom: difficult relationship
-Numbness
-Overwhelm
-Frustration

Social

-Crying, sometimes unexpectedly
-Social withdrawal
-Avoiding reminders of the deceased
-Restless overactivity
-Carrying objects of deceased
-Visiting places that remind
-Moodiness: up and down
-Distress before, at important dates
-Difficulty making decisions
-Cleaning, clearing
-Preserving rooms, items
-Creating tributes, shrines
-Need to retell the death event story
-Ritualizing activities
-Blaming self or others

Out of World Senses*

-Disbelief
-Lack of concentration
-Confusion
-Preoccupation
-Forgetfulness; Absent-mindedness
-Hallucinations
-Sense of loved one’s presence: voice, vision
-Things don’t seem real
-Expecting the person to walk in the door
-Loss of life having meaning
-Vivid or no dreams
-Calling and searching
-Fear of forgetting loved one
-Feeling “crazy”
-Questioning religion, God, spirituality

Does any of this sound like you?

Having any, none or all of these symptoms after a loss does not make you normal or not normal! Some organic illnesses may have the same physical symptoms. Some behaviors may be healthy remembrance activities. You may choose social behaviors as more in keeping with your current lifestyle. Grief is a changing process across time, not an overnight or single day snapshot of life. But without being alarming, if you experience a great number of these signs of grief and they are running your life, your exploration into answers is well justified.

That’s everyone else! What about you – is your grief normal?

You have the initial answer to this question. What do you think? What do you feel? Does it seem normal or is your grief getting in the way of your life? How deep is the hurt that makes you question if it is normal? Here’s some things you want to look for in your answer:

Awareness. Being blind to your grief means you are not even considering its affect. Here you are asking the question, so you do have awareness! The next step in awareness is looking at the impact the loss has on your life and thus the grief you experience. When you can name the grief in terms of its downstream impact – on your work, your sense of security, your beliefs, your sense of self, your fun, and more – then you have the opportunity to make the changes that have you enjoying life more each day since your loss.

Fluidity. Are you feeling stuck? If you cry one day and not the next then you are actually moving through grief. Good days and bad days. Through holidays and routine. Can you see that you are overall in a better state of mind about your grief than you were a few weeks or months ago? If you are still doing the same thing and expecting different results, or doing nothing at all, grief does not have the movement to change. If you are getting into a spot of feeling worse and more alone as time passes, reaching out for support can be an important step. As painful as it may feel to think that you have to go forward, not moving can be more painful.

Time. Expecting too much of yourself too soon, or listening to others for how long they think you “should grieve” often brings people to the “Am I normal?” question. The wonder of “when will I be over my grief?” is also a matter of what you do with time. Trust that with a bit of grief work over time, you will be able to find peace. In the most general of terms the first few months are a time of changes and you are on a rollercoaster ride of grief. The first year is notorious as “the year of firsts” as you make a full calendar round facing each and every first holiday, birthday and family tradition without your loved one. And over years, missing your loved one for what they miss – births, weddings, holidays, dreams fulfilled, and the life events we wanted to share with them may never go away.

Reassurance.  “Is my grief normal?” is a question that often just means we need reassurance that we can get through this time of loss, there is hope and that someone, somewhere understands. And, that is very normal! Not every member of your family has the same experience and not every friend even has experienced a similar loss, so reaching out through support groups and internet resources can be very reassuring and extremely helpful. As you travel the road with others, you’ll discover the parameters of what is similar or different about your own grief.

The range of normal grief is vast and often related to an individual’s circumstances. Regardless and without a doubt, asking “Is my grief normal?” is one step on the journey of healing and an important tool for finding the support level you need to process your grief.

*Grief symptoms listed are gathered from multiple sources. “Out of world senses” is our terminology. These are most often reported but may not be the entire spectrum of how someone responds to grief. If you have continued questions, or your grief interferes with your ability to conduct daily responsibilities, we recommend you contact a healthcare professional or grief specialist of your choosing for further support.