“Hold on to what is good; even if it is a handful of earth; hold on to what you believe; even if it is a tree that stands by itself; hold on to what you must do; even if it is a long way from here; hold on to life; even if it is easier to let go; hold on to my hand; even if I have gone away from you.” *Pueblo Blessing
Grief is a complex matter bringing us deep sorrow; above all, when caused by the death of someone we know and love. It comes to us suddenly, accidentally, traumatically, tragically and sometimes expectantly or prematurely. We learn as part of our natural life we will undergo grief of different kinds then that related to a physical death. Respectively, a loss is a cause of emotional inner conflict while coming to terms with someone or something we love or attached to taken away from us. The bereavement occurs and we mourn as we begin the getting through toward our healing.
As we age, at some point, we will realize it is inherent we all die. As sharp as this might sound, what a part of life to grasp no matter how much we are aware and vibrantly we live. At this bend, it is where we innately pick up as we go and carry on with grief. It will present itself to us no matter how much we protect ourselves. More, it is here where we do not isolate. We open up, encircled by a community coming together in this time of discord. Now it is at this place, we can believe it is possible our suffering will lessen and we will carry on.
Looking for comfort during time of grief is personal for each of us from a child, older youth to adult, seniors and vulnerable seniors. We need the coping skills to endure. We may find ourselves suddenly called upon to serve as a guide or a mentor to the young or old during this time of discomfort.
Grief is a word synonymous with many emotions: anger, sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair and from mourning, mournfulness to lamentation and more. To help make sense of it, we may describe it as an emotional reaction to the loss, compared to bereavement, which is an emotional event, and mourning is the process toward healing. During these times, the lead emotion we most feel is anger.
Anger is a legitimate and a normal healthy emotion that comes to alert us we have an inner conflict to manage and decide if we need some backing to help us gain a footing during these days. Open to Hope Foundation® is a non-profit foundation with its mission for helping people find hope after loss and offer a free webinar on their website on Understanding Anger.
A death of loved one of the most traumatizing is when someone takes his or her own life. For surviving family members and friends, it is not easy to accept this suicide. A sense of anger and deep shame transpires. Along with this, family members may feel guilt and blame themselves, or covertly made to feel liable for being unaware of the signs that led to the taking of one’s own life. The subject of suicide is taboo in many cultures. Religiously and publicly unacknowledged, honestly making the cause of death of the loved one unknown. Families needing solace instead feel shame during their grieving and bereavement and familial mourning occurs in isolation.
When we have experienced grief, we are better able not to be overcome by it as we allow ourselves to continue with the bereavement and accept the time of mourning. As we become the bereaved, we inevitably face sadness. Sadness is the unhappiness we feel around this time of grief and the emotion in which we express our sorrow over the loss.
Grief of Another Kind
During our lifetime, we suffer losses that have nothing to do with death and yet find it hard to cope due to situations that challenge us and to give us pain. We are unable to explain what is happening to us, but we are hurting. If it is hard to explain, our emotions are likely reminding us we are upset due to what is going on in our life to create a huge shift from our normal routine.
When no one died, we are alive, but human as we are there are reasons we might have for grief due to losses of another kind:
- Life-changing or life-threatening illness
- Loss of a healthy childhood
- Children going off to college
- Move to another country/refugee status
- Divorce/loss of in-laws, familiar friends and home
- Friends distancing, breaking up, arguing, or outgrown one another
- Loss of spiritual connection, life objective or dream that didn’t shape up to what we had hoped
- Developing a disability
- Financial loss
- Job loss/fired/career transitions
- Loss of a beloved pet-companion
Grief, Bereavement and Mourning
While the terms grief and bereavement are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss. Grief is a natural response to loss and with it comes various stages. Whatever time is given to the process of bereavement can vary on how close we are to the person who died, and if the death was an anticipated loss.
Additionally, mourning is by way of how we adapt and cope with the loss. Many cultural customs, rituals, and even society’s rule commands how our mourning is influenced. When a death takes place, we want to express our needs. We accept words of condolences as support at a time when life appears to us confusing and fragmented we feel emotionally numb and out-of-place unknowingly, while we contend with the reality we are grieving a loss.
Vulnerability is an emotion during this time that makes its presence known in us. It is vital we are honest as much as it is possible even if it is not easy to understand. We are struggling with what in unknown to us, about how we feel, our fears, what we need or even how to go about asking for what it is we do need. Instead, we center on barely coping and stave off unhealthy habits we think soothe the unexplainable pain we are feeling. Sudden addictions may arise such as emotional eating or bingeing, added use of prescription medicine, alcohol or gambling. These dependencies are emotional fixes for a while, however to postpone the inevitable, emotional pain may likely appear again in the distant future due to unresolved grief from a past loss. Grief counsellors or support groups or both will benefit us at this time.
How can we give all that we have and move through with our basic living?
- We will cope day-by-day with the belief time will heal we can accept things will be rough for a while.
- We will eventually feel better – might not be today, tomorrow, but soon.
- We reach for backing to aid us with the unfamiliar ground we stand on until we feel it is doable to live through this and accept the personal changes that comes with it.
- We work hard every day to look after ourselves.
- We may resist and be unrealistic by doing too much or think we are able to do as much as we used to before the loss.
- We will find time difficult and need to give ourselves the pause needed from the usual activities so we may gain momentum of living with a another kind of memory.
- We promise we will not go it alone, we will reach out and seek comfort in the people we know we be there for us.
The Stages and Phases
Many grief theorists who have studied grief presented either similar, comparative or opposing views on the stages and phases of what we may go through during our grieving. Erich Lindemann is a psychiatrist who in the late 40s developed his grief theory developing a grief work model. From the model he surmises the bereaved has to accept grief as an adaptive response and to take to heart, we are not the person who has died, but our beloved who has died. He also agrees death will change the bereaved from the point of death forward. The pain of this initially hurts terribly. Yet his belief is to adapt and see grief as not the adapting to a loss, but the emotion or the emotions around the loss we are getting through.
We never know as a family member, friend, or acquaintance, when the right time is to approach the knowing of what to do to show support. Intentions are to help ease the pain of the loss during mourning. However careful we tread, we want to make sure to place an offering of care and present ourselves with astuteness and higher sensitivity than usual.
The bereaved will experience cognitive confusion and their ability to concentrate is lessened. Many may experience anxiety, disorganization, or pre-occupation about something. The behaviors we witness from the bereaved are sadness, withdrawal, a crying or constant weepiness. Sometimes hostility surfaces and usually erupts in anger rejecting thoughts a loved one has died.
Grief theorist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross known for the 5-stages and phases of grief and David Kessler, grief expert, explain denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are part of healing phase. They remind us at times, people in grief and bereavement will often show more stages, justly showing us, our grief is as individual as we are. Though our emotions are unexplainable at times, we are vulnerable. The stages represent the responses to the loss. There are many tools available to aid in these stages that block us in our healing and may need to seek counselling or group therapy to guide us forward.
Having compassion is the best way to go. We start by asking permission and genuine concern for the bereaved suffering. We can try in our way to relieve the hurt, however try as we may, it must come with the bereaved having openness to this. If such as, you recommend a book or a piece of healing music as a kind gesture- should I go ahead and ask. Of course, do this by making sure it is with heartfelt consideration. We may offer can we meet to chat about the book or the piece of music when it is more proper. Awareness and attention to the receptiveness of our actions negative response maybe minimized as we go about this with careful intention and timing.
Getting Through and Healing
The healing process is not linear and more than a simple “getting over a loss.” To say to the bereaved, getting over it will sound dismissive to them, and their process of healing in their loss is unimportant. It can pose meaningless stressors, as if simply asking to step over a bucket of water in their way and get on with it.
Taking care of ourselves is the best option no matter how uncomfortable grief feels.
If the grief becomes too difficult and suicidal thoughts start to surface in our mind, tell someone, and immediately go to hospital emergency – opting out of life is not an option. Getting through a loss, we need to go through and get out on the other side and continue walking no matter how messy it feels along the way. Imagine surgical sutures or stitches when removed. What remains is a scar. We are not the same person we were before the loss and will be reminded often how much has changed. We can only move toward acceptance and healing is allowed to take its own course. In tow during this journey we go with loving compassion to our bereaved and ourselves.
The Harvard Medical School reports, “If prayer hearten or sustains you, set aside time for it. Read spiritual texts that you find comforting, attend services, and share your circumstances with a religious leader who can help place the death in the context of your faith. Gardening or communing with nature, which offers many opportunities to observe the rhythms of life and death in the natural world, is also soothing to some people. So, too, is meditation or yoga.”
Some suggested teachings follow by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, author, educator, and grief counsellor, known for his inspirational messages for people who are grieving, taken from Grieving Person’s Bill of Rights by Wolfelt:
- No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do.
- You have the right to talk about your grief.
- You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
- You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
- You have the right to experience grief “attacks.”
- You have the right to make use of ritual.
- You have the right to search for meaning.
- You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
- You have the right to treasure your memories.
- You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Hope and Resiliency
Dedicated belief and a stronger than usual support system in place, will bring us hope and emotional reconciliation to the inevitable – we are resilient!
Resiliency comes to us not only by way of healing from the love of a beloved we’ve lost to death, but as well loss can happen too for the family, who have left their country upon escaping war, persecution, or natural disaster, as well moving beyond hope and toward resilience. Here is where being able to adjust in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or tremendous stressors can exist.
If we feel we must bounce back from pain quicker than we think, opening up our mind and heart and showing kinder than usual personal and community care, the road to healing is less isolating, painful and a sense of belongingness exists for all of us.
*Pueblo Blessing published in Many Winters: Poetry & Prose of the Pueblos Nancy C. Wood, Doubleday, 1974