Grief and Grieving: Advice on How to Grieve
There is no singular, standard way to grieve the loss of a loved one.
We, at eFuneral, have posted several articles and videos related to grief, healthier ways to grieve, and stages of grief. Below are insights from grief counseling specialist, Gail-Elaine Tinker on grief and grieving.
When someone in your life has died, you are faced with the critical, life-changing task of grieving. Mourning the death of someone impacts every area of one’s life. Society has some ‘interesting’ customs, myths, and wisdoms which can be comforting or frustrating to people with grief. I would like to address a few of these ideas to assist both the grieving and those who care about them.
The truth behind grief myths:
GRIEF MYTH: Grief begins after a death.
We know this is not so because when one misses family or friends after moving long distance, it is a ‘grief’ of not having them in our day-to-day lives. Many experience grief feelings at the loss of a job or during an injury. So, why is it wrong to begin the grief experience upon the grave illness of a loved one or pet? Some people feel that such pre-processing of what is to come is somehow ‘jinxing’ their loved one’s chance for miraculous recovery. And other folks have felt guilt dealing with hospice, funeral arrangements, and financial planning for similar reasons. Most unfortunate is when families hide circumstances and deny people opportunity for farewell and ritual. If you speak with grievers who endured circumstances that denied them even a moment of a farewell or a parting touch with a loved one, they are aghast at such a waste. The gift of time becomes so much more precious when death is a reality. Those who are dying feel grief too, along with pain and loneliness in a life situation which culture does little to prepare us.
GRIEF MYTH: Grief should only last about 3 weeks.
This is one of the most heinous falsehoods put upon those suffering grief, “This soon shall pass.” For many, grief is a lifelong companion, an emptiness which accompanies day and night. This is as normal for animals as humans. It is far more helpful to see grief as a life process rather than a phase or ‘stage’ to be hurried through. Such an acceptance among the grieving and those who care for them would allow individuals to process at their own pace. There is no set time for removing a loved one’s belonging from view. There is no pre-determined schedule for “moving-on,’ despite what you may have seen in films. Considering that one of the most common impediments to reconciling grief is a lack of social support, it behooves us to gain awareness at a societal level that relief from degrees of grief takes more time than anyone would like. Grief is not a concept of healing or cure, in fact, anyone who is “over it” in three weeks is waving more of a danger flag than a person who requires three years.
GRIEF MYTH: Dwelling on details is bad. Keep very busy, and don’t think about the grief.
When it comes to personal loss, this can be damaging advice. It is designed more for the comfort of the supporter than the actual griever. Some people cry, tell repeated stories, want hugs and many others do not. Grief is a personal experience. It may be disturbing to see a once functional executive teary eyed and vulnerable, but no one can really control how any particular loss will impact them. Often it is the cultural rituals which comfort us in the time of death, however, keep in mind these rituals have wide variance and times are changing. Most important is acceptance of the griever’s need or distain for ritual.
GRIEF MYTH: Children should always be shielded from death.
How are we to learn to accept death and find comforting ritual if we are ‘protected’ from it? Adults need to help children deal with the death of a loved one – avoiding discussion of death with children only makes it mysterious and leaves them to fill in the blanks with their own developing imaginations. It is very important to use correct terminology with young people about death and dying. Euphemisms for death such as “put-to-sleep,” gone with his maker,” “on vacation,” and such phrases have the potential to be harmful. Imagine the youngster who has “lost” someone dear and finds herself now ‘lost’ in a department store; what fears will she imagine? When one takes a test as school or with a doctor and ‘passed;’ is this like when Grandpa “passed?” Of course, children’s exposure to the reality of death can be filtered by measure by age. Even little ones grieve and if given words and time to express their experience, they can be resilient and enhance the process for the adults in their world.
GRIEF MYTH: If you are having trouble with grief, you need to see a psychiatrist for an antidepressant.
This is not necessarily true. If you feel suicidal, you need to seek assistance via local hospital or crisis counseling/ 911 immediately. If you feel your struggle with grief feelings are getting in the way with your life functions and basic life happiness, start with your family doctor and a basic check-up. It is true that many physical conditions add to depressive feelings and it is very important to make sure all bodily systems are in working order. Next, look at your nutrition, exercise, and alcohol/drug consumption. These are also natural repairs to a body which has been coping with emotional stress. Next, I recommend talk therapy, either self-help, group, or individual. Please remember, this does not mean you have a mental problem. There are many life stressors which can cause folks to seek outside support, for example; health, addiction, unemployment, debt, aging, domestic violence, and spiritual issues. Unless you are in a very rural area, investigations into most phone books reveal listings of support groups for these most serious challenges in life. However, psychological studies rank ‘death of a loved one’ as the number one life stressor among all those insidious stressors I mentioned. Few communities have a self-help grief support group, let alone one sponsored by a community institution or facilitated by a qualified professional. Why is this?
The truth about grief:
There is only one sure thing to say to the dying and the grieving, that phrase is, “I am sorry.” Only offer to help if you really, 100% mean to follow through. Leave your grief, “I know exactly how you feel” and your sometimes discomforting platitudes: “He had a good life. At least she’s out of pain and in a better place. He’ll be in heaven to meet you.” outside of the conversation! Don’t bring food the first weeks unless you know it is needed. Remember the bereaved person months into the process with short notes, calls, visits or diversions if they are welcomed. The act of listening with an open mind and heart is one of the greatest gifts one can give another. Here are more tips on what to say to a grieving person.
Grief is not a disease. It is a natural, healthy process of coping with the death of someone we care about. Often it is helpful to talk with a friend, clergy, or a counselor about the intense experience of grief.
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S., a psychotherapist in general private practice in Lehigh Valley, PA specializing in grief, trauma, chronic pain, and adult autism. If you would like to know more about her practice, please review her website www.tinkerpsychotherapy.com or contact her directly at 610-216-4319. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.