7. Grief & illness

The increased stress experienced during early grief can lead to illness. The grieving person's system is vulnerable. A few good ways to assist them in dealing with the stress are:

A. Suggest that they write out their thoughts and feelings. A special journal can be helpful. Perhaps you could buy one as a gift.

B. Encourage them to use a tape recorder to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and to listen to the tape later. Children seem to like this way of expressing their feelings as well.

C. Offer to go for a walk in the fresh air a few times a week. (Fast-walking an hour a day can decrease stress by 25 percent.)

D. Listen. It's good medicine, because talking to someone who doesn’t judge or offer advice can ease stress by as much as 50 percent.

E. Don’t force food on someone who isn’t interested in eating. A grieving person may lose weight during the first few months after a death or may overeat and gain weight. A change in eating habits is common and usually temporary. Try to offer things like hot, tasty soup or small nutritious snacks.

F. Discourage the use of drugs and alcohol. Naturally we try to numb the pain and many times we reach for choices that are not healthy. The bereaved person will simply have to face the pain later, in addition to any problems the drugs or alcohol may create.

G. If your friend is having trouble sleeping, remind them that irregular sleep habits are frequent complaints of people in grief. They are adjusting to so many changes, their minds continue to race and often refuse to sleep for long. As they gradually adjust, their sleeping patterns will return to normal. Suggest some way of relaxing before going to bed such as a warm bath or soft music, etc.

H. Another suggestion for someone who isn’t sleeping well is that he or she sleep in a different bed or room from the one shared with the person who died. Facing emptiness on the other side of the bed can be a source of pain and sleeplessness, and moving to the couch (or piling pillows into the bed's empty space) may help.

I. Encourage your friend to get a general physical checkup. Pre-existing health problems can worsen after stressful events. Over-medicating the survivor with tranquilizers or sleeping pills is not advisable.

J. Be aware of the physical symptoms of grieving, and let the mourner know that these are normal and common. With time, and as the person does the necessary grief work, they will fade. However, a medical check up is wise idea.

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Sleeplessness
  • Heavy sighing (an attempt to get more air into the lungs)
  • Empty, hollow feeling in the stomach
  • Heart aches, as if "broken." Pain in the chest or rapid pulse.
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Forgetfulness (tip: suggest that the griever acquire a second set of house and car keys)
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Sense of confusion. (Grieving people can get lost in the city they know well)
  • Dry mouth, throat and skin (often dehydration from crying; use skin moisturizer and drink plenty of water)
  • Feeling of distance from others, as if no one really cares
  • Feeling that life has lost its interest and meaning
  • Sense of unreality, as if living in a dream state

Sensitively suggesting an alternate way for a single car commuter to get to and from work for the first little while is a good safety measure. This may be the ideal time to car pool, use rapid transit or be a passenger as reaction time and concentration are often poor. However, be careful not to make them feel incapable or diminish their feeling of self worth.