Living With Grieving
(BlackDoctor.org) — Death has a bad name in our culture, and it is all too often that a grieving person is told to “get over it”, “carry on”, or “be strong” in the midst of their grief.
While these bromides may be easy to say, they are generally unhelpful and can short-circuit or interrupt the very healthy grieving process of someone’s who’s lost a loved one.
Last week, my wife’s father died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 75. Diabetic, overweight, and prone to various dietary indulgences, his death was not entirely unexpected in the bigger picture, but one always feels that there’s more time, more visits, another Christmas, another family vacation or reunion down the road. His death was shocking on some levels, and the grieving began from the moment my wife received the call from her mother that he had indeed died.
Stages of Grief
The 5 Stages of Grief. As developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s and 1970s, there are generally five widely accepted basic stages of the grieving process, and these include denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. This process, however, is not cut and dry, and these stages can occur in any order over an enormously variable amount of time. Some individuals may cycle through all five stages in the course of a single afternoon, while others may remain in one stage for weeks or months, “stuck” in depression or “stalled” in an overwhelming feeling of anger.
A Multitude of Emotions. While these stages may seem somewhat simplistic on a certain level, their simplicity belies the notion that, hidden within those five stages are a multitude of feelings and emotions that contribute to the overall sense of loss that each stage communicates. The depressed person may isolate, but the angry person may also do the same, and while one person bargains with God, another may simply move into a feeling of acceptance, only to be overwhelmed with grief when the next birthday or holiday rolls around.
Grieving…While Still Living Your Life
Most professionals who work with those who are grieving would agree that the grieving process is long, sometimes lifelong in its depth and breadth. Feelings of loss can come and go, and the grieving individual may even experience moments of elation, laughter, liberation and peace.
Even then, that same individual may also experience guilt, sensing somewhere in his or her mind that laughter and joy somehow dishonor the dead and lessen their importance and the significance of their passing. This guilt is indeed misplaced, but it is a normal part of the grieving process and is widely experienced by those grieving the loss of a loved one, whether sudden or expected.
While some widows and widowers report that the first year is the hardest, others find that the second or third year is even more difficult to navigate, especially as other family members move on with their lives and the widow or widower remains alone with their memories and their pain.
There is no cookie-cutter answer or map that can chart the course of a grieving individual’s experience. We know that the grieving individual will experience an enormous range of emotions over the short- and long-term, and we must honor the fact that every person’s reaction to the death of a loved one will be unique.
It’s (Almost) All Normal
When someone is grieving, remember that all emotions are normal, whatever they may be. If the loss was sudden or violent, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a possible reaction as well, and this often requires professional intervention due to the pervasive symptoms that may result from a diagnosis of PTSD. Grief counselors and pastoral counselors can offer a great deal of support in the wake of a death, and some grieving individuals may also require psychological and psychiatric intervention if symptoms of depression, substance abuse or suicidal ideation are apparent. Safety is always paramount, so monitor the grieving individual for symptoms that may lead to self-harm or other destructive behaviors.
Some people say that we never recover from the loss of a loved one, but we learn to accept their loss and move on with our lives. Acceptance is indeed the goal when it comes to grieving, and we can accept the loss of a dear friend or family member even as we continue to miss them. Finding peace in a world devoid of a particular beloved person can be difficult, and we may feel robbed of years of experiences and togetherness that death so rudely interrupted. Be that as it may, death is as much a part of the life cycle as birth, and living with grieving is something we all eventually need to learn to do.
If you or someone you know has lost a cherished loved one, use patience, kindness, compassion and love to assist them on their journey of grief. Remember that they may cycle through a wide variety of reactions and feelings, and as long as they are practicing good self-care and show no signs of self-harm, it is best to allow them their feelings and simply let them know that you’re there. Listening to stories and memories of the loved one is a wonderful way to be “present” for a grieving person, and the act of listening is healing in an of itself.
Grief is a part of life, and as long as we live, love and bond with friends, family, colleagues and pets, we will experience losses, both great and small. Love and compassion pave the way to acceptance, and being a friend to those who are grieving is one of the greatest gifts that you can give.