Some people are fortunate and know how to grieve. Some people need to be reassured that anger, denial, avoidance are all a part of grief, that even guilt is a part of the grieving process. This article is for both those groups of people. It is for the person who doesn’t know that grieving is acceptable, and for the person who can heIp the mourner become a survivor.
There are many elements to grief. Depression, anger and guilt are three very general categories. Within each category are many areas, that, when broken down, will assist those who are grieving.
1. Actualize The Crisis
If we can verify a death, we can move ahead in our growth and recovery. We can keep away from denial and avoidance. These two reactions to death are common, but if dwelt in too long, will prohibit a person from moving forward.
There are several ways to overcome denial in order to actualize the death. The survivor can revisit the scene of the accident. Maureen, a mother of three, said that her oldest daughter’s death did not become real to her until she returned to the lake where the boat had capsized. It was not until she revisited the scene that she actualized the death.
Another way of facing the crisis is by going to the trial of the murderer, or reading investigative reports, or autopsies. After reading the autopsy report on his 28 year old son, Jerry realized that his son had a history of heart problems that had not surfaced during the regular exams. Instead of grieving that his son had been taken from him so young, Jerry understood that he had been lucky to have him around for those extra years.
So, what happens when you actualize the crisis by forcing yourself to look death squarely in the face? Two things occur: (1) you gain understanding and (2) you gain control. Why does a person fear flying? He is anxious because he doesn’t know how the plane works (lack of understanding), and, someone else is in charge (loss of control). When both problem areas can be overcome, flying will become a surmountable fear. The same is true when the fear and anxiety are caused by a close friend’s death. Once these areas are overcome, they will be put in proper perspective.
2. Help Identify And Express Feelings
It is 94 degrees on a humid August morning. The perspiration beads up on the lip immediately after wiping it off. It is hot and you perspire. This is a cause-effect relationship and is logical.
Jim, a 12 year old, watched his father eat a large ham dinner. Then he listened to him complain about how uncomfortable he felt. He was stuffed. His stomach hurt. He felt lousy. He died the next day. The ham dinner caused his death. This is a cause-effect relationship, but it is not logical.
A therapist, or support person, can help sort through the illogical or wrong-thinking that a person considers. It is important that a person identifies and expresses his feelings. Misinformation can lead to the wrong feelings. Wrong feelings can lead to a misdiagnosis. If the therapist can’t identify the source of the conflict, the groundwork cannot be laid for the resolution.
3. Assist In Living Without The Deceased And Ease Emotional Withdrawal
When someone dies an emotional tie has been severed. This bond, which has been cut off, needs healing. This can occur as a temporary bonding in a new relationship that helps the survivor adjust. After all, a new void has been created and must be filled. Hopefully the bonding may become of a more permanent nature and the new friend becomes an important part of the survivor’s future.
Louise was finding it difficult to do every-day jobs around the house. It was difficult for her to even grocery shop since her husband died. It wasn’t that their relationship was so interdependent; it was that it just had been for 23 years. She found living without him difficult; she was so used to having him around. Life just wasn’t the same.
Louise’s friend, Dorothy, offered her emotional and practical support. Louise pointed out that cooking for one was boring and lonely. Dorothy suggested inviting a few friends over for lunch, joining a bridge club, or taking an early evening class at the local high school.
Louise still found it difficult to live without her husband, but with Dorothy’s assistance, she would survive. Rather than having the feeling that she was overwhelmed by silence and that it was easier to withdraw, she was going to recover because of the emotional and practical help from her friend.
4. Alert Yourself To Time
It should be understood from the beginning, that there is no real set amount of time to grieve, as long as the survivor continues to move ahead. The survivor should feel that he has as much time as he needs to grieve. As the months progress there should be a lessening of the intensity of grief behavior, and a lessening of the frequency of grief behavior.
Remember, grieving times are different for different people. Do not worry that because “Joe” recovered from “Vicki’s” death in five months, that you should recover in the same amount of time. One of the most important elements of surviving is being able to take the time to grieve. This is not a luxury you allow yourself, but a necessity.
5. Interpret Normal Behavior
What is normal behavior after a spouse, parent, sibling, or child dies? Are fits of temper normal? What about suicidal thoughts immediately following the death? If you talk to the deceased, aloud or silently, are you crazy? What if you write the deceased a letter? What if you turn your anger toward the attending physician? He should have done more. He could have done more.
All of these reactions are normal. Anger, denial, bargaining, and acceptance are normal grief behaviors. If the survivor goes through any of these steps, it is all right. In fact, it has already been pointed out that it may help in the recovery process to do one or more of these behaviors. Sometimes writing a letter to the deceased is a way of saying the things you never had a chance to say. Or, writing an angry letter to the attending physician which you put away to look at later, can be a release for your grief. Perhaps it is best to keep in mind that what happens to you is normal for you.
6. Allow For Individual Differences
Everyone grieves differently. It bears repeating because people forget. Joe takes five months; Sue takes eight months; and Harry seems fine after one year. No two people grieve the same way.
Some people are melancholy. They withdraw from friends and other family members. They are unable to talk about the deceased or the death.
Some people are phlegmatic. They are unmotivated, lm, easy-going, or laid back. Nothing seems to excite or stimulate them. They do not appear to be upset.
Some people are choleric. They are the militant, perfectionist types who seek rigid responses to death and life situations. These people see only one possible way to grieve: their way.
Finally, some people may be sanguine. Life goes on so must they. They are bubbly, vivacious and out ing. It may seem that they are avoiding or denying the death. However, they are dealing with it in their own way. Just as there is no real time limit in which to mourn, there is no one particular way in which to mourn either.
7. Give Continued Support
This final step in grief assistance could be considered most important for recovery. It is critical for growth that the survivor be able to admit that he needs help. When he admits needing support, he is letting himself be vulnerable. So many people do not want to be vulnerable again because it leaves them open for hurt. Allowing one’s self to be vulnerable means that the survivor is moving from the searching stage to the resolution stage.
Another critical area is in giving support. A surviving spouse should remember that his support is needed by surviving friends and family just as much as he needs support from them. Everyone who was touched by the deceased during her lifetime, feels some loss at her death.
Again, there is no time limit as to when this mutual support system shuts down.
Two years after Michael’s death, Jane and her friend, Mary, were going through some unmarked boxes in the attic hoping to find some interesting donations for the church’s annual rummage sale. Jane found some postcards that she and Michael had sent the kids when they went on that “second honeymoon.” Jane began to cry and Mary held onto her knowing that even after two years a survivor needs to cry and needs to be supported.
1. Write a letter to the loved one who has died, telling him/her how you feel, what you have been doing, and read it aloud.
2. Carry on a “conversation” with the loved one about normal, every-day activities.
3. Make a list of the people who also knew the loved one. Which ones need your support? What kind of support can you give them? What kind of support do they need that you can’t provide? How can you become mutually supportive?
4. Explain to your group what type of supportive action you most need right now.
Canine, J. D. (1990) I Can I Will: Maximum Living Bereavement Support Group Guide. Birmingham, Michigan. Ball Publishers.
Updated: March 13, 2013