Grief and Loss
This is the first of a series of blogs about grief and loss. All of us have to deal with death – both the prospect of our own and that of our loved ones. As a whole, society does not want to hear or accept that grief stays with us in some capacity for the rest of our lives.
In the past in Ireland, people would wear a black armband as a signal that they were grieving, so people would be more aware and offer support. Today we have no such signals. It could be said that in just like so many other aspects of our culture, we want to hear there is a quick fix, or a healthy dose of “get over it” to be handed out discreetly and dealt with quietly.
The need for support after loss and bereavement
We can find it hard to know what to say when someone is grieving and sometimes find it easiest to say nothing at all, for fear of saying the wrong thing. This can put huge pressure on the bereaved person, who can easily feel isolated. Bereavement is not an illness or a pathological condition but people often do need more social support and outlets to talk outside the family.
A recent Huffington Post article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-e-steinke/stifled-grief-how-the-wes_b_10243026.html talks about the Western world being “emotionally stifled”:
“Western society has created a neat little “grief box” where we place the grieving and wait for them to emerge fixed and whole again. The grief box is small and compact, and it comes full of expectations like that range from time frames to physical appearance. Everyone who has been pushed into the grief box understands its confining limitations, but all of our collective voices together can’t seem to change the intense indignation of a society too emotionally stifled to speak the truth. It’s become easier to hide our emotional depth than to reveal our vulnerability and risk harsh judgment. When asked if we are alright, it’s simpler to say yes and fake a smile then, to be honest, and show genuine human emotion.”
The need for us to feel we must adopt the “stiff upper lip” approach can make us think that we are feeling a lot better than we are and we may try to go back to “normal life” too quickly.
Physical effects of grieving
We tend not to be aware of some of the possible effects of bereavement, including physical effects. Two of the most serious are fatigue and forgetfulness. People can forget how to do what are normally straightforward tasks like driving and also quite basic factual information – both of which can be extremely alarming. Women may be more likely to talk over these problems with close friends but men may be unwilling to share this with other people and can feel more and more isolated and that they can’t cope.
The Huffington Post article above lists some of our expectations about grief and then counteracts this with reality:
Expectation: Grief looks a certain way in the early days. Tears, intense sadness, and hopelessness. Reality: Grief looks different for every single person. Some people cry intensely, and some don’t cry at all. Some people break down, and others stand firm.
Expectation: The grieving need about a year to heal. Reality: Some people say year two is harder than year one. There is the shock, end of life arrangements and other business matters that often consume the first year and the grieving do not have the time actually to sit back and take the time to grieve. The reality is there is no acceptable time frame associated with grief.
Expectation: The grieving will need you most the first few weeks. Reality: The grieving are flooded with offers of help the first few weeks. In many cases, helping the grieving six months or a year down the line can be far more helpful because everyone has returned to their lives and the grief stricken are left to figure it out alone.
Expectation: The grieving should bury the dead forever. After a year, it is uncomfortable for the grieving to speak of their lost loved one. If they continue to talk about them, they are stuck in their grief and need to “move on.” Reality: The grieving should speak of the dead forever if that’s what they wish to do. When someone dies, that does not erase the memories you made, the love you shared and their place in your heart.
Expectation: Time heals all wounds. Reality: Time softens the impact of the pain, but you are never completely healed. Rather than setting up false expectations of healing let’s talk about realistic expectations of growth and forward movement. Grief changes who you are at the deepest levels and while you may not forever be in an active mode of grief you will forever be shaped by the loss you have endured.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with grief and loss and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!
See also Grief and Recovery