What is Grief?
Grief is a physical and emotional response to a loss. The experience of grief is highly personal, but there are common elements. Initially, especially when a loss was unexpected, one may feel shock and disbelief, a sense of numbness or unreality. Anger is another common emotion.
Many grief experts describe five (sometimes 6) stages of grief:
5. Guilt and acceptance (These two are sometimes divided as two different stages sometimes)
These stages serve a purpose. They serve to help survivors put their grief into a context that they can live with. It takes time to move through the stages of grief. It is important to realize that grieving is a difficult process. It can be exhausting and one might want to shut down or avoid these feelings. However, it is essential to grieve a loss. Take time for yourself during this process and give those you love time to grieve in their own way. People who get "stuck" in a grief stage may benefit from sharing their feelings with a support group or treatment professional. It is important to remember that trauma has a real influence on our brains as well as our bodies. Know that these mental illnesses can be successfully treated. The grief journey is long and difficult. Many adults become overwhelmed. Yet, grief is essential to healing.
Going through the pain and sadness of loss is a horrific experience. Nobody should tell you “you should be over the pain by now.” The pain lasts for a life time, but you can go on with your life despite your loss. There is NO ONE WAY to cope. Talk about it, and don’t be ashamed of your feelings. A group can be helpful because those that have experienced a similar loss are more likely to be understanding than others. An individual counselor may also be very helpful.
When a death first occurs, people are often numb, still in shock and still getting lots of attention from friends and family. When that support is no longer so available, some feel very lonely. The death becomes more real and more painful in some ways during the first few months after it has occurred. After a month or two, a bereavement group may be helpful. Don’t forget to pay special attention to the parents, spouse, and siblings of the person that died. Each family member copes in his/her own way. Family members and friends can be helpful by listening—allowing the bereaved to talk when they want to. Don’t set artificial deadlines for the bereaved to be “over with it by now.” Also, don’t be afraid that you will make a mistake in talking to them. You can use the first name of the deceased. Just don’t say something like, “Oh well, at least you have three other children,” or, “God wanted him more than you did,” or, “Just have another child or you can get married again!.” Those kinds of statements just make the bereaved angry. If you want to help (by speaking with them – but remember – the best thing to start is to be there and listen to them if they speak), you might ask, “How are you doing?” or, “I think coping with Joe’s death must be so painful,” or, I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to go through such a terrible loss, want to talk to me about it?” If the person grieving looks at you and says, “I am doing fine,” you might not want to accept that at face value. It is hard in our society to talk about our anger, sadness, and depression. Just be there for the family members when they are not doing well, when they look exhausted-when they are not sleeping, when they don’t get back to work or other activities for a very long time. Remember, don’t try to solve their problems, just show you care.
Generally anyone who has been grieving a loss will have a time of difficulty. In some, however, the level of difficulty is such that their day-to-day living is nearly impossible. Warning signs of a more serious problem include:
· You are unable to resume a functional life
· Your relationships with other people are greatly suffering or even dropped
· You have self-destructive thoughts
· You cannot think about the event or accept your changed life
If these warning signs are present you should look for a psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience helping people following a loss or trauma. You may benefit from counseling and medication. Your family physician or sometimes your health insurance call center can help.
§ Look for an experienced therapist who has been in practice for a number of years treating people affected with loss and trauma
§ Ask about treatment practices and experience.
§ Be honest. There is probably nothing you can say that these people have not heard before. Only an open, honest dialogue will help you doctor formulate a treatment plan that is right for you. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with the doctor or psychologist - FIND A NEW ONE!
Some Coping Mechanisms that Have Worked for Others
Although nothing will "make it all better” and it is important to let the pain of loss come and experience your grief - here are some things that can help along the way.
§ I took a leave of absence to focus on my family. During this time we joined a gym where we could go and exercise as a family. For me there was time for reflection as I walked on the treadmill or ran the track, time for celebrating my love for my husband and daughter as we played together in the pool.
§ At the urging of my friends I created a scrapbook of my daughter's life. We look at it from time to time to feel more in touch with her. It's also a way for my youngest daughter to learn about her sister.
§ I also put special things (outfits, toys, cards, her baptism gown and candle) in a chest. I don't take them out much but knowing they are there and safe is comforting.
§ I planted a garden at Emma's grave. I like to garden and I choose colors and objects an infant might like.
§ I wrote in a journal (still do) to help me get my feelings out. I don't worry about what I write or how. Putting something down helps me from getting stuck on something. It gives me a sense of accomplishment or it helps me feel that I am doing something with my feelings.
§ I saw a professional for over a year on a regular basis to help me learn to live with my husband's death. I don't feel "ok" about his death and I'm not over it but I'm able to find a place and time for my thoughts and feelings about what happened and not have it be the focus of each day. It helped me to keep being a mother and not just a crash survivor.
§ Reading books is where I learned that other people had experiences and feelings like mine helped me feel less alone.
§ Share things that you found helpful with others - write to people who have had a similar loss.
§ I found that writing letters of thanks and making collages with photographs were good therapy
§ After my nephew died we found an essay about a family camping trip and a picture. Several of us had the picture tattooed on our shoulder. We now have a permanent angel on our shoulders.
§ My faith is what really got me through.
Some Testimonies of Ways People Helped People in Grief
§ My brother-in-law drove me to the cemetery and went with me (without intruding) as I chose a plot.
§ My in-laws went with me to the funeral home to choose a casket and arrange the funeral. It helps not to have to make all the decisions alone.
§ My mother and in-laws answered the phone and took care of greeting visitors.
§ My mother and mother in-law picked up some beautiful dresses at a children’s clothing store so I could choose something special to bury Emma. I chose one and they returned the rest.
§ My brothers-in-law helped to limit visitors to my husband. He was in critical condition, and did not need to deal with visitors.
§ Our friends, neighbors and church sent food for a month so I didn't have to shop or cook. Although, after a while I wanted to do it to have some sense of normalcy.
Sources: Crash Survivors Network, Christian Works, Christianet.com