Grief and Loss

Dad's casket close up

It comes to all of us – the final farewell.  We recently had a loss in the family.  It was not unexpected. Everyone had had time to prepare for the inevitable. Regardless of that, it still hurts. The finality of it. The knowing that someone you deeply cared for is no longer physically here. Raw, new grief has rough edges. Edges that cut and bleed. But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. As trite as it may sound, nevertheless there is a great truth in it. Time does heal. It leaves scars that serve as reminders.  Time softens the rough, bleeding edges, the acuity and sharpness of it. Time softly wraps the remembering and reminiscing  enabling us to look back with love and a smiling heart.

 However, it is not just death that leads us into that valley of hurt. It is all kinds of losses that life throws at us-

  • loss of a job
  • loss of a relationship
  • loss of a home
  • loss of health

These are just a few that come to mind. Those big life losses come wrapped in a package of other losses. Take a job for instance. It’s loss of income. That can lead to  a real rollercoaster of other losses – relationships, home, health, dignity, self respect.

I once met a man who called the parklands of North Adelaide home. He had been a highly paid and well respected professional who lost his job. Subsequently his marriage broke up. Along with that he lost his home and connections to all his networks, including family. When I met him he had recently been discharged from hospital after a significantly serious operation. He required regular dressing changes and treatment post discharge. The story he told with quiet dignity was harrowing. When he was ready for discharge no-one bothered to ask who was picking him up and supporting him. So he didn’t bother to tell them there was no-one.  He took himself back to live under the trees in the parklands in winter. He lived to tell the tale. To us health care professionals as part of our training. It stopped us in our tracks I can tell you. Such a simple thing to ask – and no-one thought of it.

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Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Wikipedia

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a passionate, minute French psychiatrist. She pioneered the way to a better understanding of grief and loss through her work with the dead and dying.  Her now famous Five Stages of Grief has been refined by David Kessler who worked with her for some time. He has this to say –

‘In our work, On Grief and Grieving Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and I wanted to revisit the stages for clarification in grief and loss. The  stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.’

The homeless man  described his journey, experiences and emotions as he had lived them. Listening to him I heard him as if he were describing the stages of loss and grief in a higgledy piggledy way. Which is exactly what happens. Real life does not mirror a neat step by step framework.

So just what are the Five Stages ? Here’s a brief summary of them :

  • DENIAL

A sense of being overwhelmed, of life not making sense, of numbness and shock are the usual hallmarks of this first stage.  ‘Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process.’

  • ANGER

can be intense and directed at any and everything that could be blamed for what it is that you are experiencing. It’s important to allow yourself to experience it and work through it, for it too is healing.  ‘Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss.’

  • BARGAINING

This is the domain of what if’s, if only’s and guilt. It is a time when we seek to find ways to bargain our way out of the hurt and pain. To undo what has happened, to return to a time when all was not as it is now, at the time of loss.  ‘…the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.’

  • DEPRESSION

A sense of surreal emptiness, a deep grief and loneliness, of feeling like everything is too much of an effort and a waste of time. These can be the signs of acute reactive depression. A response to circumstances beyond our control. It is a natural and normal thing to feel depressed when loss has been intense. As the healing process continues it will lift. If for some reason it becomes more long-term and pervasive, it may be indicative of a deeper clinical depression.

  • ACCEPTANCE

Learning to live with and realise that life has forever changed and is different is a part of this phase. Finding new ways of being in this differentness, recognising and accepting that it’s healthy and OK to move on with life is equally a component of it. Sometimes it means dealing with survivor guilt too. Especially for those who have suffered traumatic losses through war or other catastrophes. ‘Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life...’

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There are many other frameworks for explaining stages of loss and grief.  that have more steps in them.  Jenni Wright-Parker, an RN, identifies seven of them. Her work too is based on extensive experience of working with people who have lost much.

There is no right or wrong way to mourn. If either model helps make sense of what you are experiencing, well and good. Or a merge of both. Or a different one entirely.  It validates that what you are going through happens to all of us at one time or another in our lives.

What to do if loss comes to roost in your life:
  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Be aware that it will get better
  • Know that it will take time
  • Remember that it’s OK to cry, be angry, feel hurt…and that your feelings will yo-yo
  • Spend time with those who care for you
  • Do things that you normally enjoy
  • Talk about it as much as you need to
  • Make sure you eat and drink
  • Sleep and rest when you need to
  • Remember you are not alone
  • Remember too that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness

Life happens to all of us. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s downright hard. They are the times when we need to dig deep and find those inner reserves. BUT we don’t have to do it alone.

Raili Tanska

Life has many ways of testing a person’s will,
either by having nothing happen at all
or by having everything happen all at once. 
Paulo Coelho

 

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31 thoughts on “Grief and Loss

  1. Having been through the death of my youngest son and my dear husband I quess you could say I’ve been there. If not for the fact I truely believe that “Everything works for the good to those who love God’ I would be a mess. Love you Raili and you and yours are in my prayers.

    1. You certainly have been there, well and truly. It must be particularly painful to lose a child. My heart goes out to anyone who has suffered such a loss. To have a firm faith foundation is a great source of comfort and solace in such times. I wonder how those who lack this cope in times of tribulation. Thank you, Beverley, for your words and prayers xxx

  2. The scars left that *don’t* heal truly are there as reminders of that growth and change and in remembrance of the love for what has been lost. In processing my own grief this last two years, I’ve reflected on what humans would be *without* those remnants. If grief were to leave nothing behind and become nothing itself. We wouldn’t be much. Hurting or not, that evolution separates us from the rest 😔😔😔 Thank you for a lovely post.

    1. Sam, thank you for you for sharing your insights and learning. You are so right. It’s the growth that occurs by walking through the purifying fires of great challenges.

  3. I took a class in college that centered around Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s death and dying. I know I really enjoyed it, but I don’t really remember a lot about it. A lot of times, it’s hard for me to remember things. It’s so damn frustrating, it’s like I have post traumatic stress sometimes and my memory is wiped out. That’s why I have to write things down or take a lot of pictures., Isn’t that a repercussion of a Violent childhood, or a Trumatic brain injury? I know these things happen a long time ago, but so many times I find myself forgetting things or not remembering. I hate that. Anyway, I know I enjoyed the class, the subject material is something I gravitate towards. I think I made an A in it. Thanks for this post

    1. Kubler-Ross was a ground breaker in the research on death and dying. Others have continue to build on her work. I’m sorry to hear about your memory loss issues, Gretchen. There can be so many different causes for it. If I seem to recall correctly you had a bad accident some years ago. Perhaps it stems from that.

      1. Yes, very likely. It’s not a huge issue, but maybe because I don’t venture out and do big things. I stay holed up in my circle. It’s frustrating to say that least. Thanks for the reply. Hope this new year is treating you well. 😊

    2. Hi, I too had troubles with my memory, I still do particularly when I am confronted with the illness or other challenges to my loved ones. My husband died in 2013, my worse days are long behind me. As time went by my memory improved tremendously. I have had a lot of loss in my life, recently a friend died, the parents of a friend who was a long time caregiver of her parents died 15 months ago & 1 week ago. I have noticed a little lapse in my memory,so have tried to get back to some tricks I learned to help me remember things. In listening to my friend who lost her parents many feelings fromo my own losses came back, but no so painful or frightening as to keep me from being a supporter of her at this difficult time. She mentioned memory loss & muddled thoughts even confusion. My sister was a great help to me by being my reminder, though I would mark my calendar then after getting an iPhone I used the calendar reminder Ap, yet still would forget. I started telling her what & when I had to do things & she called me. I have offered to do this for my friend, sometimes Little things are a big help. I also offered to accompany her to Doctors appointments or shopping, anything she might need to lean on me for. I remember the first time I shopped for groceries I fell apart in the store, got imbarased & ran out of the store, leaving a pretty full cart of groceries in the middle of an isle. I had prior to my husband’s death shopped with him but also bought a lot of bulk items & we always had a freezer. I didn’t have to starve, but I went with out eggs, milk & bread for about 2 months, ate weird combinations before I tried again, then I only bought a bare minimum. I had not thought of asking my sister to shop with or for me. I survived of course, but this experience has taught me that maybe my friend or others who will go through loss (no of us get to skip this aspect of life) might need help in any number of ways we don’t expect. I felt abandoned by my circle of friends, reading & therapy has confirmed this is so common. Death is scary & painful & people don’t know what to do so they stay away. Having experienced what felt like being kicked when I had been knocked down then those who kicked me left me at the side of a highway to crawl back home, I will not abandon people, I will call & visit & offer my time along with my ear. My experience, therapy & reading many books & articles has taught me a great deal. (26 years ago my first husband died, when I was 32 when he died, just shy of being married 15 years, a year later my dad, I was 53 when my second husband of nearly 21 years died, I had many miscarriages one that nearly killed me, a car accident leaving me unable to work after a year learning to walk again & the deaths of too many friends made me seek answers, hence all the reading). Most people need to talk about the event(s) need to tell it till the tears stop or it becomes comfortable-another life’s experience- not a fresh wound. Ask for help or find a willing listener, some will not help but others will, don’t just assume no one is there if you get rejected by one or two, a mistake I made once, it made my worst experience harder. Unfortunately for me as I was very experienced at grieving misguided family & friends figured I could get through this alone, after trying a few in my circle I assumed everyone thought I was able to bounce back on my own & quickly. Maybe there’s a person that can do that, my therapist & I doubt it, even saying that feels odd because I did come through, I did survive, I am trying now to thrive. I was experienced enough to get a therapist, as I knew I needed to tell my story & I chose to be kind to me even if no one else was. Pride or many reasons can stop people from getting help, truly sharing is a way of being kind to yourself. We all deserve little kindness. The sister who was my reminder was at that time undiagnosed with cancer she was exhausted didn’t know why, so she didn’t have the strength to be my ear, she was being kind to herself by limiting her help by being my calendar. When she had a lengthy battle I was her memory & more, it was within the first year after my second husband died, being concerned for her but mainly helping her also got me out of my head, gave me purpose & kept me from total isolation, when she needed me less & less I then realized I still needed to finish grieving and saught out therapy.

      1. Oh my goodness, you really have been through the school of hard knocks as far as grief is concerned. You have a lot of wisdom and insights to offer others. And yourself. Bless you

  4. (((((Hugs))))) there is no size fits all when it comes to grief. Today is 117 weeks since Jim gained his wings..I Miss him and us, with every ounce of my being Raili….but I am Living my life for both of us now ❤️

      1. Aah, yes. I don’t know that there ever is a ‘right’ path. I guess for some the pain runs so deep that digging through the layers of loss is a lifetime’s journey.

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