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Death is one of life’s biggest challenges. Cape Town-based grief and trauma counsellor Jill Davey describes the grieving process as “a unique state of being.” While grief is a personal process, the key is dealing with your emotions.

Common feelings

Davey explains that the emotions you encounter upon receiving the news of the death of a loved one may be influenced by the circumstances surrounding their passing. If the death is sudden, you often enter an “absolute state of shock and denial”. There may also be a strong sense of being left behind. Anger at being abandoned is also normal.

If the death is expected, you may feel a different kind of shock. While you may be relieved that their suffering is over, you will probably feel slightly stunned. “You can prepare yourself but you don’t know how you will react until you actually experience the loss,” says Davey.

Returning to work

One of the hardest things to deal with is that although you’ve suffered a devastating loss, the world has continued. “After being looked after by constant visitors, the worst trial you may face is being forced to get back to life as you knew it without the person you have just lost,” says Davey.

While most companies provide about five working days of compassionate leave, Davey advises staying away from work for at least two weeks. Although you may feel that work may take your mind off things, you may not be able to function productively.

Dealing with grief

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. However Davey provides some general ways to cope.
• Talk about your feelings surrounding the loss.
• Share memories to celebrate the life of your loved one.
• Give yourself permission to grieve. Don’t feel that you have to apologise for being sad or crying.
• Surround yourself with people who understand. Explain that you’re not yourself.
• Remember the person you have lost. You may wish to do rituals like lighting a candle or looking at their photo and talking to them.

When to seek counselling

While the grieving process is unique, Davey points out some signs to seek help:
•Your grief is complicated; you may have unresolved issues with the person who died.
•You can’t bear to speak about your lost loved one.
•The intensity of your grief is worrying. Two to three months after the death, you still spontaneously burst into floods of tears.
•You refuse to move any of your loved one’s material possessions or you lock all reminders of them away.
•Your grief becomes dysfunctional. You are not living your life and are alienating others months after the death.

When deciding whether you need to talk to a professional, emphasis should be placed on whether the “level of your grief” is healthy. “The dangerous thing about grief is that it accumulates when you haven’t dealt with it,” says Davey.

Positive perspectives

While losing a loved one is devastating, after some time, you can take some comfort in the following:
•Because you had a unique relationship with the person you lost, you will never go through this particular pain again.
•Celebrate the fact that you had that special person in your life. Be grateful for the bond you shared.
•Time heals. Your grief generally comes in a spiral. Parts of the spiral will be deeper than others but the good news is that you never go back to the greatest depth of pain once you have experienced it.

“Grieving becomes something that you manage to cope with,” says Davey, “There’s never a right time for a loved one to die… You will eventually make peace with the fact that it was their time to go.”