There are three things we need to understand about grief because
grief is such a complicated process. Last week, staff at my apartment complex found one of my neighbors dead from an apparent heart attack. It’s a common problem; I’ve lived there since 2009 and this is the fifth death of a resident since I’ve been there. My neighbors are complaining about the high death rate at this complex as they go through the grieving process alone. This made me realize there are three things we need to understand about grief.
Three Tips That Help You Understand Grief
There Is No Time Limit On Grief
The first thing to understand about grief is that there is no time limit on grief. This is something I didn’t learn until my junior year of college despite several losses. A psychologist in my grief support group made an offhand comment about “the first year” and I exclaimed, “You mean it takes more than one year? I thought we were supposed to be over it by then.” In my family you just sucked it up after the first month and didn’t talk about it. If this is your experience, you’re not alone–it’s a common enough misconception that it earns a mention in two HealthyPlace articles Helping Yourself and Others Deal with Death and People Are Not Goldfish.
There are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve. For example, crying, singing, painting, or laughing are all healthy ways of dealing with grief. As my 7-year-old brother observed at my grandfather’s funeral, “In a funeral, people go to church and cry, then they come back to the house and have a party.” Unhealthy ways of coping with grief include substance abuse, self-injury, and bottling up the emotions. There is a wide range of emotions. But there is no time limit because time does not heal all wounds.
There Aren’t Always Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This is not always true. Some people are more resilient than others and do not go through these stages. And that’s just as valid a reaction as going through the five stages.
Personally, I don’t believe denial is a stage of grief. It is pretty hard to deny facts like a dead body. It is, however, possible to be in shock or numb to the impact of the loss. And it is possible to start with any of the stages, such as depression.
When my Grandma Oberg died, I attended the funeral in central Missouri and drove home to Indianapolis immediately afterward so I could attend a psychiatrist’s appointment the next day. The psychiatrist, who knew I was in mourning, wanted to adjust my medication because I looked depressed. I replied, “I just buried my grandmother. I’m supposed to look depressed. If you increase my medication for a normal reaction to a stressful situation, than it’s just legal substance abuse.” She didn’t appreciate that comment, but she left my medication alone. And the depression did not linger as I was allowed to mourn.
Give Your Sorrow Words
I’ve best heard grief described as “the elephant in the room”. It’s there, but no one wants to talk about it and people go out of their way to avoid it. This is a mistake. As Shakespeare wrote, “Give sorrow words.”
Talk about the loss. The National Funeral Directors Association tells the following story:
When Lois Duncan’s 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, died because of what police called a “random shooting,” she and her husband were devastated. Yet, the people most helpful to the Duncans were those who allowed them to talk about Kaitlyn.
“The people we found most comforting made no attempt to distract us from our grief,” she recalls. “Instead, they encouraged Don and me to describe each excruciating detail of our nightmare experience over and over. That repetition diffused the intensity of our agony and made it possible for us to start healing.”
To understand grief, remember: there is no time limit on grief; grief is not the same for everybody; you need to talk about it. Remember, grief is the price we pay for love. Understand these three things to help you mourn in a healthy manner.