Mar 2021 1st Edition

Dealing with the loss of a loved one

Many people have lost loved ones as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and the death may often feel unreal.  

“You are not alone,” says community psychologist Zanele Ludziya from the Stikland Hospital in the Western Cape.

Losing a loved one is never easy and can trigger a range of emotions.

“There are many signs you can look out for when a loved one is grieving, but an absence of symptoms does not mean that the person is not grieving.

“People may show signs of anger, irritability, sadness or apathy. Their cognitive functioning may also be affected, as they may be preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the deceased. They could also have trouble concentrating or may appear confused,” says Ludziya.

She advises people to be aware of behavioural changes, such as being tearful or increased alcohol and substance use. 

“They may smoke more than they usually do, they may withdraw or isolate or they may avoid people and places. They may want silence or increased noise. They could also be more aggressive or snappy,” she says.

When supporting a loved one, Ludziya says it is helpful to understand the grieving process and that everyone experiences it differently. She explains that grief is not a state, but a process, and people usually go through stages of grief.

Common stages of grief

The common stages of grief are denial or isolation (experiencing numbness or shock); anger (getting angry with others when they have not done anything wrong); bargaining (experiencing feelings of guilt over things not done or said); depression (the sadness that comes with realising that life will continue without their loved); and acceptance (finding a way to living a fulfilled life without the person).

“One way of coping or showing support is to understand the stage of grief you are in or that a loved one is experiencing. This can reassure the grieving person that what they are experiencing is normal. Treat the person or yourself with kindness, patience and understanding, keeping in mind that what you are experiencing will eventually pass,” says Ludziya.   

You can help someone who has lost a loved one by asking them what kind of support they need. There are also non-governmental organisations, such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, which offer support. Visit their website at or call the helpline at 0800 567 567.

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