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Chapter 3 is the long road that begins after the last casserole dish is picked up — when the outside world stops grieving with you. Mary wanted to reassure her family, friends and herself that she was on the fast track to closure. This was exhausting. What she really needed was to let herself sink into her sadness, accept it. When I suggested a support group, Mary rejected the idea. But I insisted. She later described the relief she felt in the presence of other bereaved parents, in a place where no acting was required. It was a place where people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be “to lose a piece of a sacred bond.”
Consider your own expectations for grief – and how long is “too long” to grieve loss or change. Is there a timeline in your mind? Or within your local community? Share some ideas on how we change the community mindset on time lines and grief – or share with individuals that what they’re experiencing, even if not what the community says is “typical”, actually is?
Grief is a complicated topic for discussion because it is completely individual and can manifest in several different ways. Since the phenomenon of grief and loss was first researched and discussed, there have been several prominent philosophies of grief that have emerged. Likely, the most well-known “grief-expert” is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who outlined her thoughts in her book On Death and Dying. It was through this book that the idea of “stages of grief” emerged, such as the common stages of denial, anger, sadness, etc. Later, Worden discussed a different perspective of grief and instead assigned tasks. After all, it was never Kubler-Ross’ intention to create a linear timeline that grief would follow. Worden’s tasks provide us with a more flexible and descriptive way to explain grief and loss and has been a staple in bereavement work for almost 30 years (Worden, 2002).
Through my own studies and experience, I don’t believe that it is fair to ever have an expectation related to grieving or throughout bereavement. Each loss in individual and each person will grieve in their own way and on their own timeline. I don’t believe there is a linear path that grief follows and I have always encouraged my clients to be accepting of where they are in their grief, whether they have moved between several tasks or are stuck in one. For example, after a loss someone may be feeling anger and resentment. It is important as clinicians and support systems for us to honor that and provide the opportunity to explore that. Where is the anger coming from? Is there another emotion that may be sparking that reaction? That being said, we must also provide education on grief and coping to allow them the tools to move through their grief in their own way. Note that I said move through versus move onfrom their grief. I think this is another important insight to share with clients and to remember ourselves. One does not move on from a death, the death and the person will continue to be part of our lives in some way (whether we want it to or not), but we can move through those feelings of anger, sadness and move towards remembering and finding connections.
In the community, I really feel it is our duty in working within this field to continue to provide education. To educate those that are currently grieving and to educate others that will experience loss in the future or have in the past. After all, death is the only thing we truly have in common as a society. There is no bias and no way out of it.
Worden, J. W. (2002). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
I do not believe that there is any sort of timeline on the process of grieving, and to put someone who has experienced a loss on a clock is not helpful. I do not think there is such a thing as grieving someone for “too long”. Dr. Kubler-Ross is famous for coining her “stages of grief” theory, which says that there are five stages of grief that individuals will go through in order to grieve “properly” – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While these steps form a good guideline for individuals to follow after losing a loved one, there is no evidence to suggest that bereaved people actually move from stage to stage in a linear order as suggested by Kubler-Ross. Her theory of grief is so widespread most likely due to its step-by-step sort of feel and its popularity. Physicians spend very little time educating their communities on the process of grief and how it can affect different people in various ways. Individuals experience grief independently and individually, and rarely follow any sort of direction. Some might take comfort in prayer or participate in grief and bereavement sessions, whereas others may choose to express it in writing, song, or paintings. While the intensity of feelings may lessen over time, there is no timetable for how long you will grieve.
Individuals in your community not affected by the loss may expect you to move on within a year or two. But the fact is, many people may still feel as though the events happened just yesterday. It is unfair to assume that everyone grieves in the same way that you do, or to say that you understand their pain. Children especially tend to grieve in ways not totally understood by adults. Grief of children is dependent upon their age, and influenced by factors such as closeness of the person lost, culture, and socioeconomic conditions. Adults often feel that children do not understand the “correct” way to grieve, when in fact they are doing exactly what is developmentally appropriate. Explaining children’s grieving processes to immediate adult family members will be beneficial in changing what the typical “grieving child” looks like. As we read in “Hannah’s Gift”, her older brother asked if he could go downstairs and eat pizza minutes after he found out that his sister died. To many adults, this would seem like he was not distraught by the loss, when in fact it was simply how his brain naturally processed his sister’s death. The only time that adults should be concerned about a child’s grieving process is when symptoms such as unremitting guilt, persistent somatic complaints, and persistent social withdrawal are present (Lancaster, 2011). Otherwise, what adults deem as “typical” behavior may never be present in the grieving child.
I hope everyone has a great rest of their week!
Jeffers, S. L. (2001). Stages of grief: Fact or fiction? Kansas Nurse, 76(7), 9-10.
Lancaster, J. (2011). Developmental stages, grief, and a child’s response to death. Pediatric Annals, 40(5), 277.