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Grief's a natural (though devastating) part of life

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can face.

About eight weeks ago, I brought my wife to an emergency room. Five days later, she passed away. I'm still severely upset. I've lost my appetite and sleep. I'm constantly nervous. I have no family left and most of my friends are busy. I need support and advice to make it through my depression. Any suggestions?

I'm sorry about your loss. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can face. Losing a loved one suddenly or unexpectedly is perhaps the worst. In your case, five days is certainly not enough time to emotionally prepare for the impending loss of a life partner. No wonder you're devastated.

You may take some comfort in knowing that your feelings are a natural and understandable response to sudden death. Not only is your illusion of trust in the universe shattered, but also your nervous system hasn't had time to digest the death. This can compromise your coping mechanisms, affecting everything from sleep to appetite. To put it simply, you're in shock.

While eight weeks of feeling miserable may feel like a lifetime, the loss is still fairly fresh. Most people can expect to cycle through several of the stages of grief - denial, sadness, anger, bargaining and acceptance -for at least a year, with symptoms subsiding but lingering much longer. However, those bereaving a sudden loss may feel the pain more acutely and for a longer duration than those who had an opportunity to prepare and say a proper goodbye.

Whether or not you're clinically depressed is actually a subject of public debate. While bereavement has historically been excluded from the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, the most recent draft of the new Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM)-V (the bible of the mental health profession) allows a depressive episode to be diagnosed two weeks after a death. The change is fairly controversial, as many believe that a natural passage of life should not be pathologized.

Regardless of what you call it, there are some things you can do to begin healing:

1) Give yourself permission to grieve.
While some people (men especially) may feel the need put on a brave face, grief is not an emotion that stays repressed for long. Better to grieve now in proximity to the actual loss, than years later when it can complicate other aspects of your life and compound the pain of subsequent losses.

2) Attend a bereavement group. Seeking support from others who understand what you're going through can be very comforting, reminding you that you're not alone. You might find such groups through a hospice, religious organization or a community social service agency.

3) Consult a bereavement counselor who can listen, monitor your moods, determine whether you're at risk for depression and potentially refer you to a psychiatrist if medication is necessary.

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