“Nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain,
The pain of losing you, but …
We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
‘Cause we know our goodbye is not the end”
With Hope, Steven Curtis Chapman
Grief and Bereavement – Coping and Helping Others Learn to Respect the Process
Losing someone or a way of life previously familiar is never easy. It may pull the rug out underneath you. It may incapacitate you and stop your world. While grief and bereavement are not disorders in any way (in fact, I want to iterate STRONGLY that grief is NATURAL) grief often goes hand in hand with many mental, behavioral, and emotional illnesses, whether felt by the person themselves or those close to the person.
When I was in college, I participated in a summer research program that kept me on campus and more than a hundred miles from home. My roommate and best friend at the time was with me when I got the call that my mother had committed suicide and drove me all the way home in the middle of the night. I was obviously grateful and appreciative for the support, but as the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, our friendship buckled under the stress of my bereavement. At first I was angry; I was being abandoned all over again. We were also in the same social circles, which was especially hard. While she thought that the best way to get me to cope with my grief was to keep me on a normal routine, I resented the carefree way she continued about her life. My mother had just committed suicide – I wanted the world to stop spinning; I wanted life to stop. But life doesn’t stop and I still had bills to pay and a life to live. Eventually we parted paths in the worst way and for years I held that resentment inside me. I came to realize, however, that my friends just didn’t know how to deal with me. That was the worst part. I wished they had done the research, read a book, anything. The fact that you’re reading this now is a big step forward in the positive direction for you or someone in your life, and if it is someone in your life, just know that they appreciate it deeply, more than words can understand or express, no matter the hiccoughs or bumps along the way.
Before we can work towards a solution, we must know the problem. It is important to know that grief is a very personal experience – the very fiber that makes us all unique does not tie off at emotion. There is no “normal” or “expected” behavior and while some people may show their sorrow and heartache, others may keep it inside. The United States Library of Medicine defines grief as “an unhappy and painful reaction to a loss that may be triggered by the death of a loved one, a illness, chronic pain, the end of a significant relationship (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)” or any other event that may cause initial inconsolability. Please keep in mind that grief should NEVER be prevented as it is a healthy and natural emotional manifestation to a painful incidence. Above all, the process of grief should be respected and go transpire at the pace of the person who is experiencing it.
Although there is no way in predicting the pathway of grief, as everyone is different, many bereavement researchers have come to a consensus on 5 stages of grief. Not everyone experiences all or some, and if they do, it may be out of order. The five stages are as follows:
(1). Denial, Disbelief
(2). Anger, Blaming others
(4). Depression, Sadness
(5). Acceptance, Coming to terms
There may be feelings of shock, numbness, detachment, guilt, anxiety, and fear intermittently. The stress of grief can also have physical, emotional, social, and spiritual implications. You or your loved one may question their former way of life, their spirituality, and/or their trust and respect for others and themselves.
What can you do?
If the one experiencing the grief is you, remember that grieving is natural. If, however, you feel like you simply cannot go about life, calling a health care provider or seeking out a bereavement counselor may be highly beneficial. There are many places you can go, and now with the ease of the internet, you don’t even have to step outside of the comfort of your house. Initial grief can be combatted with medicine, herbal supplements such as Vitamin D, counseling, and other home treatment methods. Get enough sleep, or if sleeping or falling asleep is difficult, take short breaks throughout the day for some quiet meditation. Keep a journal. One exercise that I tried in college was, no matter how hard the day became, I took time out to reflect. Then I took an index card and I wrote one high of the day, one thing that made me really happy, no matter how small – the sun shone on my face, I caught every green light on the way to work or school. Then write one low of the day. When you’re done writing them, rip up the low card in as many little pieces as you can and toss them out. Then keep the high card in your wallet or a special place to pull out and look at when things get a little too rough to cope. Eat nourishing or comforting food. A piece of dark chocolate not only has antioxidant qualities but is also a non-committal treat. Choose foods that you wouldn’t normally try to mix up your palate and experience new cultures. The spices and aromas of other cultures may brighten up your mood and prove to be therapeutic. Establishing a routine is also important, and although it may be viewed to others as “going through the motions,” routine develops into comfort by creating familiarity. Exercise, but be sure not to overdo it. Surround yourself with loved ones – animal or human. Save a life by adopting a pet from your local animal shelter. Most importantly, remember that YOU ARE WORTH IT and things get better with time, even if it’s hard to see that now.
If the one experiencing the grief is a loved one, I want to know that doing the research on how to deal with another’s grief is a huge step forward. Being a bystander when someone you love is oftentimes hard and may feel impossible to do. You may feel helpless. Remember to roll with the punches and be patient. Give the person the time and space they need, but watch out for drastic behavioral changes. Take suicidal ideology seriously and call your local suicide hotline or emergency services – never let a life hang in the balance of uncertainty. It won’t be stepping your boundaries. If you have to, point out changes in behavior to the person gently. Sometimes just knowing that another person notices is enough to change a person’s whole day around and every better day is a victory when you suffer with bereavement. Spend time with the person and offer to accompany them to counseling or their health care provider. Most importantly, let them know you care and you want to help.
The following are some helpful links and numbers to find seminars and support groups near you:
Online Forums and Chatrooms
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org
- Heartbeat Survivors: http://www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org
- SAVE: http://www.suicidegrief.save.org
- Hello Grief: http://www.hellogrief.org
- The United States Library of Medicine: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Hope starts here, The Effort: www.theeffort.org
1. Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
2. The Effort: 1-800-273-8255 or 916-368-3111