I read in Understanding Grief by Edgar N. Jackson about how grief is an expression of loss. It may come in the sense I am used to referring to it, such as a parent, spouse, child, a good friend or a pet passing away, or it may be as simple as moving or graduating from school, changes that affect the way we interact every day.
Grief is complex and personal. Although everyone has felt some sense of grief, each time and with each person, it is unique. I also read the book Living When a loved one has died by Earl A. Grollman. I really liked his insights. He walked me through the grief process by starting first with Shock, moving on to the suffering, recovery and finally a new life. I would like to share some insight I had in each of these areas.
Shock: No matter if I have known for a long time that someone was ill and not likely to completely recover from his/her illness, it is still a shock when it actually happens. My mind still clings to hope until I am told it is final. Then it is hard to take everything in. I don’t want to take everything in. Everything slows down, and I focus on myself--how I feel and how my life has changed. Earl talked about the big questions that creeps in at this time, “Why?” “Why me?” “Why now?” I am very much aware of the pain. Like I said before, everyone expresses grief differently. I cry a lot and become very contemplative. Some people become very organized and detail oriented. Some may be angry, or it may be a mixture of all of the above.
Suffering: In the suffering section he talked about the different feelings that accompany grief--numbness, denial, anger, panic, physical illness, guilt and depression. In numbness he said this is the body’s way of coping because it is too difficult to feel the depth of the loss all at once. Denial is a natural part of grief and easy to do. How hard is it to go through personal items and make decisions as to what to do with them? It is easier to leave them as though a loved one would come back at any time to claim them. Anger can be directed at family, friends, God, self or anyone that is associated with the death, such as doctors, funeral directors, etc. He said, “Your anger is neither right nor wrong. It should be recognized, not suppressed…. Resentment is a normal part of your grief process.” Panic hit when I thought about the plans I made that I could no longer do, and how different my life would be without my loved one to share them. Physical Illness is also normal. It is a time of great stress both mentally and physically. Guilt is a big one, but also one that can be harmful if allowed to go too far. It is impossible to change the past. It is only possible to learn from the past and move forward. Depression is another feeling that needs to be watched. It is easy to let it be so overpowering that no new growth is made.
Recovery: The first part of recovery is to completely accept my loved one is dead. They are not gone from sight, but in fact, they are dead. Earl talked about the importance of expressing feelings. It is important to be able to talk to someone and say, “I am sad, mad or hurt.” He warns about hiding feelings with drugs or by being busy. The feelings, when suppressed, are left like embers of a fire to start something later.
A new life: I still have fond memories and funny memories and not so happy memories of my loved ones, but I also have new friends and family that are now a part of my life. It did not happen all at once, but one step at a time. Sometimes the first steps were forced steps, but one step lead to another. It helped to rely on my faith and belief that I will one day see my loved ones again. It helped to have friends that listened to me talk about my memories and experiences. It helped to help others. Service is a great healing balm. I try to take each day one day at a time. Some are better than others.
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