Guest article by June
June shares her view of how to cope with bereavement having come to terms with the loss of her own husband.
We all have to go through the grieving process when coping with the death of someone close to us. Elizabeth Kublar-Ross in her book On Death and Dying talks about the five stages that people go through—denial and isolation; anger; bargaining; depression and finally acceptance. The dying, as well as those who love them and are faced with their loss, also go through these same stages of grief.
Going through the stages of grief
As you go through the stages, one day you may be in the anger phase, then jump to depression and then, back to denial again. There is no rhyme or reason—only what feels right for each individual at the time. You can’t predict how long each phase will last. It is different for everyone. If you are grieving and a well-meaning friend suggests to you that you shouldn’t be feeling what you are feeling, kindly thank them for their concern but know that you are exactly where you need to be.
However, with grief, sometimes you yourself will become aware of something not feeling right. You may well think, “I should be over this by now” or “I don’t like feeling this way.” When you, yourself, recognize that it is time to move beyond where you are at, then trust that feeling as well.
We have to grieve
When it comes to grief, most people would say that there isn’t a choice. When someone we love dies, we have to grieve. I say it is totally natural that we will miss the person’s presence in our life but grief isn’t inevitable, not in the way most people think of grieving.
When we grieve, it is our best attempt to keep that person alive, at least in our perceived world. We know they no longer exist in the physical world as we know it. However, if we continue to think about them, pine for them, grieve their presence, then it keeps the thought of that person active in our perception and it feels better to us than the total void or absence of the other person.
Grief shows others just how much we cared for and loved the person who died. Grief is also instrumental in getting us the support we need from others during our time of bereavement. People do things for us that we would normally be expected to do ourselves. Again, please don’t think that I am suggesting that a grieving person wakes up and “decides” to grieve so someone will stop by the house with a meal. None of this is conscious but I’m merely pointing out the potential benefits of grief in terms of helping us through this difficult period.
Once we become totally conscious and aware of what our grief does and doesn’t do for us, then comes the hard part. We need to make some decisions about how we want to live.
Changing the Reality of Loss
There are always at least 3 options in every situation -leave it, change it or accept it. “Leave it” in terms of coping with death would be major denial of the loss, suicide, drugs and/or alcohol abuse, or perhaps sinking deep into mental illness. When we get caught up in ‘change’, we may continue in our grief as our best attempt to get the person back. This might involve constant trips to the cemetery, frequent conversations with the deceased, refusing to believe he or she is truly gone, constantly talking about the one who’s gone. There are many things we can do to attempt to change the reality of the loss.
If and when we come to accept it, we can experience some measure of peace and rejoin the living. A healthy step in this process is finding a way to somehow maintain that person’s presence in our lives. Now, this is a very individual thing and you must be very careful not to judge the choices of the bereaved.
Anyone who saw’ Meet the Parents’ will remember Robert De Niro’s character kept the ashes of his mother in an urn on his mantle. Many people do this with the cremated remains of their loved ones. Others place some ashes in a necklace and wear it around their neck. Some will set up scholarship or memorials. When my husband died, his family and I created a wrestling scholarship fund for a local h school wrestler. When my friend lost her 8 year-old son, she had the local zoo name the frog exhibit after him!
There are many ways to maintain the person’s presence. There is no wrong way. Whatever brings comfort to the bereaved should be supported by those around them. Remember that just because a person is choosing something that may be distasteful or wrong to you, doesn’t make it wrong for that person who was grieving.
When acceptance occurs, then the grieving person can begin the journey into their life and the lives of those around them but it won’t happen overnight. We need patience and loving understanding for those coming back from grief.
Another possible choice is the person who doesn’t appear to grieve at all. There may be many explanations for this behaviour. The person may be very private and doesn’t want to do his or her grieving where others can see. Another possibility is that the person is simply trying to be strong for everyone else. I know I wanted my children to know that I was going to be OK. I didn’t want them to believe that they had to take care of me. To some around me they found it upsetting that I wasn’t that I wasn’t grieving enough.
Please don’t judge people who are grieving – yourself or them. Once they know the direction they want to go in, they have to flesh out the details of their own plan to cope and move on.