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Grief is a natural response to any kind of loss. It’s a form of emotional healing, something that’s innately human. But sometimes, this normal process is stalled, sidetracked or pushed underground. The result is called incomplete grief, and its signs include irritability and anger, continued obsessions of the deceased, hyperalertness, depression and even self-harming behaviors. If you have lost a loved one a while ago, but haven’t fully come to terms with it, you may not have fully recovered from your grief — even though in your mind you know it’s been a long time. Just remember, there is no time limit with grief. You may need to take the next step and take advantage of bereavement services in Alameda County and elsewhere to help you process that grief.

Grieving is a highly individual experience, says HelpGuide, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. How you grieve will depend on many factors, such as your coping style, personality, life experience, your faith, and the significance of the loss. To be sure, the grieving process takes time, with healing happening gradually. No one can force or hurry the process along, and as such, there is no normal timetable for resolution. Some people will feel better in a matter of weeks, while others may not feel better for months or even years. The key is to be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold in a natural way.

That said, some people never get over their grief no matter how much time has past. They’re stuck in a loop of sadness, regret, guilt and maybe even anger. Here are some signs that you may still be grieving for the loss of a loved one.

1. Irritability and Anger

These feelings often come up seemingly out of the blue some weeks or months after the loss. This is a result of pushing down the pain of the grief, usually through distraction (immersing yourself in your job, taking care of your family, etc.). You may think: if I just stifle my feelings, they’ll go away or maybe I’ll be better able to deal with them later. That’s rarely the case. Those feelings will come out one way or another, whether through steady irritability or an out-of-the-blue explosion, says Psychology Today.

2. Continued Obsession

Obsessing over the loss and events surrounding it is normal to an extent. But sometimes, you can get stuck on sort of an emotional rewind, lacking the ability to move forward. You may have found yourself dialing the deceased person’s phone number or you may be replaying moments of regret in your head over and over, or you cry whenever your loved one is mentioned.

3. Hyperalertness

After a loss, life understandably feels more fragile; you may feel more vulnerable and the world may seem unsafe. This may cause you to become hypersensitive and alert, fearing more loss. In a sense, you’re wired to be prepared for the worst.

4. Behavioral Overreaction

With any significant loss, we come up with a way in our heads to avoid dealing with such trauma and pain ever again, whether we’re conscious of that or not. When you add incomplete grief to the mix, it’s common to overreact. You may become more dependent on a partner, or you may pull away from others in order to avoid a sense of closeness and potential loss. Coping in this way can rapidly turn into a longer-term pattern in all of your relationships.

5. Apathy

Apathy, low-grade depression and numbness may also settle in. This way of shutting down grief is like hanging a heavy blanket over our emotional selves, resulting in an apathetic, why-bother attitude, as well as a lack of energy, motivation and drive.

How to Complete the Grief Process

If you realize you’re struggling with a loss or you have a loved one who is, there are some steps you can take to feel better:

  • Get closure by writing out your thoughts. Write letters, write in a journal, whatever it takes to get your feelings out on paper.
  • Face what you may be avoiding. Visit your loved one’s gravesite if you couldn’t before, for example.
  • Participate in bereavement services, taking part in support groups, workshops and counseling.

It’s important to realize that the transition from an obsessive focus on the past to a re-engaged hopeful focus on the future doesn’t happen at once. In fact, it comes and goes, in bits and pieces, in a back and forth manner. You may catch yourself feeling guilty when you suddenly realize you want to be happy again. You may see your recovery from grief as an abandonment of your past relationship, but it’s never disloyal to a lost relationship for you to  find new ways to achieve happiness once again, says MentalHelp.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We offer helpful bereavement services here at Pathways, from counseling and memorials to workshops and support groups. Please give us a call at 888-978-1306 to learn more or to participate.