Secretly, don’t we all just want to know we’re normal? But when a workplace tragedy turns your world upside down, you may feel like “normal” is a whole different planet.
The good news, according to Dr. Phil Carverhill, is that when it comes to grieving, “normal” includes a wide range of emotions and other responses. Dr. Carverhill is a psychologist in Saskatoon. He led a workshop called What Is Normal? The Unique Journeys of Grief in the 21st Century at Threads of Life’s Western Canada Family Forum last fall.
Every one of us will face and experience death, Dr. Carverhill said. It’s important to remember that grieving is a process, not an event, and there will be up days and down days – there is no straight-line route from grief to healing. Dr. Carverhill also pointed out:
- Grief is not an illness – it is normal and natural
- There is no magic timeframe for how long a person will grieve
- There is no one way to grieve – every individual does it differently
- Grief is multi-dimensional (more on that below)
- Grief is unpredictable
Great! All that makes it pretty hard for a person to know what to expect. Dr. Carverhill said people experiencing grief are sometimes surprised to find how many different ways it affects them – we would all expect to feel emotions like sadness, but there are many dimensions of grief beyond sadness:
- Emotional – anxiety, anger, frustration and other emotions may all be normal
- Behavioural – you could find yourself behaving in ways that aren’t usual for you – like restlessness or withdrawing from work or friends
- Physical – loss of appetite, aches and pains, fatigue and inability to sleep
- Cognitive – forgetfulness, inability to concentrate
Of course, there are also responses to grief which are not healthy and require intervention, like deep depression or using drugs or alcohol to cope. But for most people, Dr. Carverhill suggested, we need to understand and accept that our way of grieving may not be the same as our family members or friends, and vice versa.
“It’s amazing how hard people can be with themselves, even in grieving,” he said, “Be kind to yourself and let others be kind to you.”
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