Grief Is A Process Not An Illness
January 6, 2015
Grief is a Process Not An Illness
It really is surprising that some people think that anyone suffering from grief especially the type of grief following a loss is ill. They do not know how to act or what to say or even worse they treat them as invalids and try to do everything for them.
Grief and how to deal with it depends on who is affected and why and it could also depend on so many different facts. So trying to weave a path through the effects of Grief and trying to help someone who is attempting to go through the grieving process.
Anyone living and trying to cope with grief is never going to be easy. I am a professional Staff Nurse working in a busy Hospital and unfortunately Sickness and Death is no stranger to me. I see the results of loss and grief first hand, I see it when the person is first affected or is diagnosed with a terminal illness, I see it in their eyes and there expression is one of fear in most cases then other feelings take over and once the shock has worn off they settle into denial and anger and then into sadness as they begin to accept their fate and deal with their family if they have one.
But exactly how we will react to our own demise or that of a close relative, friend or even a loved pet, it doesn’t matter, the various stages are pretty much the same it is we who are different and each one of us will deal with grief in our own personal way. But what is important, is that we each need to go through the process of grieving, in whichever way we must, in order to come out of it on the other side, feeling that they are going to survive and that they have coped with it and life will get better and they can begin to move on.
My name is Michelle and I deal with loss and grieving friends and family on a regular basis so I feel that I am quite familiar with the process and that is probably the first thing you should know about grieving, it is a well known fact, grieving is a process that we must and should go through, we may each show different signs and we will no doubt take various times to go through the process, but go through it we must.
The first thing to do before any grieving process begins or id likely to have any kind of effect on our lives is to properly acquaint ourselves with the stages of grief and the grieving process that the persons suffering are likely to go through, what it means and what we can do as ordinary people who may be Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters in fact anyone can and should know how to spot the signs of people grieving and possibly how to help them.
I was once taught that grief is the process that allows us to accept whatever has happened and be ready to move on. There have been a number of papers written by various professionals over the years. But they have mostly come to similar conclusions. They provide a guide that can help to explain how to prepare people what to expect and how to deal with and throughout the grieving process.
The guide is known as “The 5 Stages of Grief” originally from the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
The 5 Stages of Grief
These various stages are not to be viewed as a check list and it’s possible some steps are missed completely, but they are to be viewed as an indicator of what we or whoever is grieving may be feeling or experiencing, but as I mentioned the order may be varied or missed completely and the timing could fluctuate too. For some it begins immediately, for others it takes a while and for others they appear to give no signs at all that they are grieving.
This stage usually starts out as disbelief, shock and even anger, this is often experienced by witnesses to someone getting bad news, from a Doctor, Policeman, or receipt of a death (sadly all too common within our military communities at this time). However if we focus on loss for the purpose of this article we will keep better focus, I am simply trying to illustrate that the grieving process can apply in a number of situations.
So following a loss of a loved one, it is easy to not believe rather than do so immediately, It’s not that we don’t accept the loss has actually happened, but rather, it’s a sense of, disbelief that we will never see that person anymore. But in reality it is thought that this stage is a coping mechanism and protects us from sensory overload by delaying the acceptance until our brain can process the information properly and the mind can adjust in a controlled manor. Once we have got over the shock and the crying etc, it may follow that more and more questions may be begun ti be asked like; what happened? Why? How? When? But this may also be a sign that the real information has now been processed and the possibility that the loss has been taken in, understood a little better and although still deeply upset, they are fully aware of the facts of the loss.
This is both obvious and frightening and I think when a person is most likely at risk of self harm or worse. This is because they can be angry with anyone or anything, themselves, the hospital, the police, the world their god, really anything and mostly without cause but at this point they are not really themselves. This can be a difficult time to be around people when in this state and in extreme cases medical supervision may be required and sedation prescribed. It is important that alcohol is avoided as this could escalate matters. People who don’t show any signs at all should also be closely watched because if the anger is bottled up or even directed inwards and turns into guilt. Guilt is still a natural response that many of us will feel even though it is often without reason and even with supportive family around to guide us, it is not a natural thing to blurt out but knowing this information in advance will help the affected person realise what it is and to begin healing with acceptance and then they may feel like sharing. At the hospital these explanations and guides are handed out to anyone suffering a loss and even anyone receiving bad news.
With this the sufferer wants and needs to want life back to normal as fast as possible. We wish time go backwards, catch the illness earlier, or to see the signs earlier, what did we miss and one thing after another. There may also be the, if only stage and what if I do this or that sort of feeling almost grasping at straws. Bargaining may even start before the actual loss has occurred as in please let it be me, we will search for a way to resolve the situation either with God, “spare” our loved one; we say or “do anything” to keep them with us. In the event of a sudden loss, it could be that we need or want them back or even go back to the point prior to the event and change things. This bargaining keeps our attention on the past so we don’t have to feelings and emotions that we are going through now. But on the other hand bargaining can also be helpful. Once we accept that our loved one is going to die, we can use bargaining to ease our minds and theirs, praying for a “peaceful passing.” And if the person is physically suffering we may even wish for a quick end. But please remember that this is normal to because we don’t want to see our loved ones in pain. If they are in pain the medical team should be aware and administer medication to ease this pain. Once they have passed, bargaining can be helpful too, in that we can focus on the future and we may pray to be reunited with them someday, depending upon our faith. But care must be taken by stronger members of the family to watch over the family most affected by grief to watch for signs that they may wish to join their lost one too soon and harm themselves.
Eventually grief will enter on a deeper level, it can happen anytime and anyone even if that person has been strong all the way through, keeping everyone else safe and calm. It can bring on intense feelings of emptiness and deep sadness. We feel like we don’t care about much of anything and wish life would just hurry up and pass on by. Even getting from the bed can be a huge burden, we can feel exhausted and apathy may set in, we may even wonder, “what’s the point?” for pretty much everything and you may even wish to die at times.
Our friends and family may try to help us through this stage, get us “out” of this “depression,” but it’s important to know that this isn’t a mental illness—it’s a natural response to loss and a process which we need to go through.
Remember this is definitely not a clinical depression this is being experienced here, it is a natural process of bereavement and mourning, and all the emotions of this depression must be experienced in order to heal and recover our normal self control and awareness. I know it doesn’t seem right that we all must go through the feelings of pain, loss, grief, and sadness (these may arrive in different orders or in a variety of ways and severity because we are all different beings.
As difficult as this may be at the time we need to push through and almost embrace it. Some of us will do it alone in private and others will welcome help and some may need to have special counselling to help us through it. This part of the grieving process may often last for several weeks and there is no set for the emotions to pass. We need to take care and seek company when we feel like it and keep a close eye on anyone else involved with the loss, because it is often the case where problems if shared feel less heavy and we can cope better after a chat and a cry. (Even the Men are allowed to cry, in fact they must)
Once we have gone through the sadness and depression associated with bereavement we can now begin to accept what has happened and we realize now what has happened and the reason for our sadness we can begin to move on. At this stage it is often thought that we are now sorted and we are over and done with the grieving process and life will return to normal. Unfortunately this will not quite be the case, we shall always have the emptiness for the person who is no longer with us, we will occasionally go through periods where we become depressed again because some trigger has reminded us of something. We may suddenly smile and remember or a tear will run down our cheek from some distant memory.
Acceptance simply means we are ready to try and move on and to accommodate ourselves to this new situation without our loved one. This process has been known to improve our memories and bring us closer to in a way. But we need to make sense of how we wish to live. We don’t have to forget this person, we should remember them at their best because we all have faults because we are individuals, so never forget always leave a space for them it could be a picture, a special token. But always thing of the good times and smile, be at peace.
Understanding these Stages of Grief can help us realize that this procedure is quite normal and help us to work through it with the varying signs as we each experience grief. But we should try to never be alone and that grief is an experience in which we shall all share, with some it will be immediate and others it could be several months away. I remember my Mother passing a few years ago, I was in work mode throughout the illness as I bathed her and cared for her, bur as she passed, I became a wreck and handed the reins of responsibility to my husband and I grieved for her. Once her service was over and she was finally laid to rest I said my goodbyes and turned my attention to work once more.
We must remember that loss can be from the loss of a close family member or even a loved pet, it can call at anytime and in varying degrees but if we need it, we have plenty of experienced professionals, ready to lend a hand or a shoulder to whom we can ask for support or guidance through our times of grief.
Sharing the Grief
How do you go about comforting a friend who has lost someone close? This is a question that haunts people of any age bracket. But learning to share the grief of a friend is particularly important for you especially as you get older because it’s going to happen more often for you.
There is no sense ignoring the issue or avoiding talking about the deceased person. As a senior citizen, you are going to have a greater incidence of people your age passing away than people of other age brackets. Of course, everybody has the experience of losing a loved one or seeing a close friend or a friend of a friend pass on whether they are young adults, middle aged, teenagers or even children. But as a person of senior years, you are going to come across loss more often and no doubt you may even be thinking of your own time closing in as time goes by.
So when you hear that a dear friend lost someone close to them, you can empathize with their loss. But when it comes to going to your friend and offering comfort that may be difficult or awkward, try to put yourself in their position and treat them accordingly. There will obviously tears at some point so getting that part will allow you all to relax. Then you could maybe take your lead from them. If they are quiet be quiet yourself, but I’m sure that they will want to talk at some point and Yes it will be about their loss, but you will usually find that this will be good to talk about their spouse or partner.
In the Jewish scriptures of the Old Testament, there is a story called The Book of Job that has a lot to say about grief and loss. In the story, the lead character, Job, sees all of his children killed in a freak accident and he loses his wealth and property as well. Most of the book is about dealing with tragedy. But when Job’s friends come to give comfort, it’s interesting that the text tells us that they came to him and sat with him for seven days without saying anything.
When you first visit a friend after their loss, the nagging question is, “What can I say?” The truth is, there isn’t anything you can say that lessens their loss. What your friend simply needs is company. The initial loss they are feeling is for the presence of that loved one. So we can take a clue from others present or from the grieving person themselves. Just be there for your friend or loved one. You don’t really have to say anything. Just being there speaks volumes at these times.
Sometimes it’s just the routine things you would do for your friend anyway which can do a lot to help them through a time of grief. Take them out to dinner or shopping for shoes or anything that may take their mind of their grief for a few hours. The worst things to do for anyone going through grief is to leave them alone to deal with it, or treat them differently almost as though they were totally disabled and trying to do everything for them. But a person in grief craves regularity so being with you to do something routine together is a tremendous help.
The best approach you can come up with for really being with your friend when he needs you most is to know how the process of handling the passing works. Most people who want to comfort a grieving friend go to see him in the first day or so after the passing. And you should do that for sure. But that first week will not be the time you are needed the most. Your friend will be busy with the funeral and seeing distant family and getting lots of attention. It’s strange to see this but often the grieving spouse or friend goes through a time of joy during that week simply because it’s a time to see family and friends and to celebrate the life of the recently departed spouse.
But the time when the grief becomes really heavy and difficult especially for the one left behind, is usually after the funeral is over and everybody has gone home.
So after a few weeks of activity and attention they are now alone, it’s time to face the days and nights for the weeks ahead without their loved one who they are missing so badly. There will definitely be tears, lots of tears. This is the time to go to your friend and make yourself available, either in person or a few calls from you to monitor their recovery of the grieving process.
When we lost our Father who was created, we asked Mom what she wanted to do with his ashes, and her answer surprised us a little, she wanted to keep in there, with her. We put a photograph of our Father onto the urn, not the cheap receptacle he came in but a quality stone piece which looked more ornamental and not too out of place on the cabinet. Mum felt at home then and she said she could feel her husband’s presence there and I’m sure that was a comfort. It was then that we started leaving Mum for a extra day between phone calls, slowly monitoring her recovery.
All you need to remember is to be available, be easily accessible and be accepting of what they are going through so you can be a catalyst for getting back to normalcy. That is the most valuable thing you can offer your friend because it is more than just sharing his grief. It is helping him get through it which is the healthy way we all use to process grief and get on to a happy life.
However what did surprise me a little was my husband, he had been strong throughout the weeks leading up to his father who was suffering from Lung Cancer and was home from the hospital for his final few weeks, those weeks we’re tough for all of us, myself and my sister in law’s all nurses were helping with Father’s daily care. My husband was strong throughout, dealing with lots of the admin side of things and helping to arrange the funeral once Father had passed. He was strong throughout the funeral and the weeks after. But possibly a month later he began to struggle with his own grief.
I should have known, but my own experience was always instant grief not delayed as this was, he became depressed, his health suffered and I really became worried, but just being there for him and I let his friends know so they could keep in touch and slowly he went through the same grieving process as the rest of us.
So as you see, even the strong can be affected by grief and it can strike you even months down the line. But if managed correctly and human contact is made most of us will go through this process and eventually recover, it is a normal process, not an illness.
Just a little word of warning about what can happen if Grief turns bad. This usually happens if people are left alone to dwell in their own world of misery. They will often become depressed and in some sad cases, especially where it has not been noticed, they can become so overcome with grief that they may even try to take their own lives. This is quite rare but it is a possibility especially if they were close
Children Can Be Affected Too see This Article;