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Grief and the mind

By Leanne Billiau

Martha came in for bereavement support because she thought she was “going crazy”.  She had always been organized and mentally sharp, but after her husband’s death, she started to lose things, began forgetting appointments, and even found herself putting milk in the cupboard one day.

Some common mental symptoms of grief are an inability to concentrate, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, slowed thinking, sense of unreality, and inability to make decisions.  Those of us in the field of grief and bereavement recommend that a grieving person does not make any life changing decisions for at least a year following a major loss because it is so difficult to “think straight” when you are grieving.

Another bereaved woman named Jane called saying she thought she was losing a grip on reality when she heard herself talking about her mother’s death in a detached way, as if she had been a stranger.

In the early days, weeks, and even months after the death of a loved one, when the loss is ever-present in our minds, we still have moments when we think the ringing phone is them calling, or we plan to tell them some news, only to realize in the next instant, with a pit in the bottom of our stomach, that they are gone.  This leaves us thinking, “How could I have forgotten when I can’t think of anything BUT the loss?”

We know, on an intellectual level, that our loved one has died, but it takes time for the reality of the loss to sink in emotionally.  Our minds have a way of protecting us from getting too overloaded, letting us absorb it all, bit by bit, until the reality of the loss is finally able to be processed and felt on an emotional level.

When the mental symptoms of grief present themselves, remember that they are not only temporary, but they are also a normal, natural part of the grieving process.

“Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”                   -Anonymous

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