Reaction to a loss

The loss of a loved one is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that life asks us to face: in front of such a great pain is perceived the feeling that, along with our beloved, is gone also a part of us, the one that until then we perceived to be our identity. One feels alone, helpless and inconsolable.


This pain, however, is faced by every single person in an absolutely personal and individual way.


Different, but overall quite common, are the feelings that one may live: torpor (or shock), longing, despair, acceptance and reorganization. It seems evident that the processing steps of the loss move by a phase of complete rejection and denial (more accentuated when the loss occurs in a traumatic and sudden way) to a slow and gradual acceptance through a new affective and emotional investment. The reaction resulting in the event varies from person to person, and it is certainly influenced by several factors such as the type of relationship with the deceased, the kind of death (more or less sudden), age, sex and the ability to manage emotionally strong events.


In addition to emotional reactions, the person affected by grief may present discomfort reactions to physical and emotional well being with typical symptoms of tiredness, lethargy, poor appetite, lack of interest in themselves, anxiety and vulnerability, sleep disturbances and concentration problems. All these feelings of suffering and distress appear normal in the face of an intense pain situation: it is essential to think that heal a wound so deep requires time, as well as a deep, personal work, made of pain and longing but also of memories and emotions with which slowly one can learn to live with.


The grieving process is a psychic work which necessarily requires a comparison with the despair and anger; only “the fact acceptance” of the loss can lead to a reconciliation with oneself. This last phase is probably the most complex and elaborate, and this is even more difficult to reveal in suicide bereavement cases. In these latter, in fact, survivors are living an immense sense of helplessness and emptiness: empty but full of questions, for which there will be no definite answers, with guilt for what could have been done and it was not done, for what (one thinks) could be avoided and instead happened. One feels a sense of shame for a death that appears unjustifiable, and cannot be accepted. In these cases, bereavement reactions may occur in more pronounced ways: the constant desire and need to find a “why?” brings survivors to prolonging the intense reactions of pain and despair, up to, in some cases, a real social isolation for fear of being misunderstood or judged.


The social context surrounding the survivor is, in fact, a powerful protective factor if it can communicate to the suffering persons that they are not alone, that there is someone beside them to share their emotions. To feel having someone close, when the absence of the loved one predominates over everything, can transform the initial unspeakable suffering, by changing at the same time the person it affects.