Rec­og­niz­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing grief

The Victoria Standard - - Classifieds - JEN­NIFER MAC­DON­ALD

Grief is in­evitable and it is messy. We can feel at times like we are drown­ing in our sor­rows. A loss, or mul­ti­ple losses, in tight-knit com­mu­ni­ties can mean that many are suf­fer­ing. It also means that many can be sup­ports.

Grief is not an ill­ness, nor a dis­or­der – it is a nat­u­ral and nec­es­sary (though un­wel­come) com­po­nent of re­la­tion­ships. When a loss is ex­pe­ri­enced, it may be help­ful to un­der­stand some of the mech­a­nisms of grief.

In terms of re­search around the process of griev­ing, there are sev­eral mod­els - three most preva­lent. Kubler­ross de­vel­oped the “Five Stage Model of Griev­ing” in the late 1960s, Wor­den de­vel­oped a model that il­lus­trated an­other sim­i­lar model that con­densed the stages into “Four Tasks of Mourn­ing” and Stroebe and Schut de­vel­oped a dual process model of grief. The mod­els are use­ful and of­ten used to help peo­ple ne­go­ti­ate the grief jour­ney.

The key mes­sage is this - we are all dif­fer­ent and the grief process is rarely lin­ear in na­ture. It is of­ten de­scribed as an ebb-and-flow-like wave or like a com­pli­cated knot.

Af­ter a loss, we go through high and low pe­ri­ods, vary­ing in­ten­si­ties of emo­tions and un­pre­dictable pat­terns. We may re-visit var­i­ous “stages” of grief as time goes on. This is not an in­di­ca­tion of re­gres­sion, but a nor­mal and ex­pected re­ac­tion to deep loss. Some peo­ple may not ex­pe­ri­ence all of the “typ­i­cal” stages of grief. This does not mean that they are miss­ing out or that they are not pro­gress­ing as they should. They sim­ply may not need to visit all stages of the process to find their way.

In the early stages of grief, im­me­di­ately af­ter a loss there is of­ten dis­be­lief, de­nial or an in­abil­ity to ac­cept that a death has oc­curred. You’ll of­ten hear peo­ple say “I just can’t be­lieve it” or “It doesn’t seem real”. Some­times there is a ten­dency for peo­ple to turn in­wards at this stage - if they don’t go and do what they typ­i­cally go and do, then they don’t need to rec­og­nize that life has changed. Peo­ple of­ten “go through the mo­tions” but lose a sense of time and per­haps even feel in a fog.

There is some­times a stage of blame - blam­ing the med­i­cal com­mu­nity, God or a higher power, one’s self, or the per­son who has died. At this point, we may hear things like “If only he had taken bet­ter care of him­self” or “The doc­tors should have given her x,y, z and didn’t.”

Anger fol­lows closely on the heels – anger to­wards the sys­tem, the per­son, one’s self or even the un­fair­ness of life and death. Some­times anger is gen­er­al­ized and a per­son ex­pe­ri­ences a short fuse with any­one and any­thing they face as a part of their daily life. Again, this is a part of the grief jour­ney.

Sad­ness of course is a part of the griev­ing process, with a deep sense of loss and sor­row for some­one who was sig­nif­i­cant and loved.

Grad­u­ally, even­tu­ally, peo­ple will move to­wards ac­cep­tance. This “fi­nal” stage of the griev­ing process hap­pens when the griever be­gins to make plans. Al­though life is now dif­fer­ent, it re­mains ful­fill­ing. Peo­ple find a way to re-align them­selves af­ter a loss, and re­gain a sense of who they are. Dif­fer­ent, but not empty.

The mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion is al­ways “How do I get through this?”. There is no quick fix, no one right thing to say or do or think. Re­gard­less of the model of grief man­age­ment, ex­perts agree that self-care and strong so­cial sup­ports are the key con­trib­u­tors to al­le­vi­at­ing some of the most chal­leng­ing as­pects of loss. En­sur­ing that peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­enced loss are rest­ing, eat­ing and get­ting some form of ex­er­cise helps their bod­ies sup­port their minds and hearts as they grieve.

Hav­ing a space and place to talk about loss, feel­ings, wor­ries and hopes is im­por­tant for some­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced loss. Be­ing that lis­tener for some­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced a loss is a crit­i­cally im­por­tant role. Lis­ten­ing means just that - not talk­ing, or feel­ing like you should be of­fer­ing ad­vice, but lis­ten­ing to what the mourner is feel­ing and al­low­ing them to speak their feel­ings. By lis­ten­ing, you are help­ing the griev­ing per­son move along their grief jour­ney. That is ex­actly how the process is ne­go­ti­ated - through di­a­logue and ex­pres­sion of thoughts and feel­ings.

Some­times the griev­ing process be­comes com­pli­cated, mean­ing there are other fac­tors that make the process more dif­fi­cult and po­ten­tially re­quire pro­fes­sional in­ter­ven­tion. Pre­dis­po­si­tion to or pre­ex­ist­ing men­tal health con­di­tions (such as de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety) can com­pli­cate the grief process as can nu­mer­ous losses over a short pe­riod of time, or a trau­matic loss. If your feel­ings be­come over­whelm­ing at any time, i.e., they are wors­en­ing over a pe­riod of time and you feel un­able to man­age on your own, al­ways make an ap­point­ment with your fam­ily doctor or call the Emer­gency Cri­sis Ser­vices through the Cape Bre­ton Health Author­ity at 902-5677767.

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