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Another Perspective


The thirteenth anniversary of my youngest daughter’s death is in a few days. I still miss
her sparkling personality. She lived to have fun and to help young children. She talked
and laughed a lot. It was not possible to be around Sarah long and not be smiling. She loved Lake Tahoe where she died and now rests in peace. Sarah was 22 when she died of a brain aneurysm.

One of the activities I did before Sarah died, and continue to do, is to lead grief groups. A couple of times each year I speak about using a journal in the grieving process. This is always a moving experience for me as I listen to the experiences of those struggling to make sense of their loss. Murder, suicide, automobile accidents are the ones that start the tears flowing. Usually there is someone present who has lost a child. That catches everyone’s attention. Empathy and caring are in abundance at these meetings.

In this blog, I want to share some thoughts about the grief process. I have edited an article submitted over ten years ago to the Tuscaloosa chapter of The Compassionate
Friends, one of the support groups mentioned above. I am sorry I do not have the author’s name.

First, be aware that grief follows its own course. There are many ups and downs and it lasts far longer than American society recognizes. Many businesses believe 5 days is sufficient for grieving the loss of an immediate family member. A grandparent warrants only 3 days off from work. Of course this is absurd. A year or more is usually needed to work through the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one. So be patient with yourself when you are grieving and don’t allow other people’s expectations prevent you from doing what you need to do.

Along these same lines, grief is an individual adventure. You and your spouse will experience and cope with it differently. One of you is not right and the other wrong. It is what it is for you. Don’t generalize your experience to others and don’t allow other’s experience dictate to you. Find the courage to walk your own path. Others can help, point out markers, normalize your experience, but they can’t grieve for you.

Crying is an acceptable and healthy expression of grief. It releases built up tension and gives deep feelings an outlet. Strong men DO cry, even Marines, firefighters and police officers. Cry freely whenever you feel the need.

You may experience a bit of a depression, with a loss of appetite or the reverse, overeating. You may not sleep much. Sex may not go well. An inability to concentrate and constant fatigue (even after a good night’s sleep) are all common aspects of the grief process. Irritability is also normal. A lack of interest in life’s events, even those which previously you felt passionate about, is also typical. The best you can do for yourself is to eat a balanced diet, rest a good deal, and participate in moderate exercise.

Guilt, real or imagined, can be a part of grief too. It surfaces in thoughts and feelings of “if only.” To resolve this guilt, learn to express and share your feelings with understanding companions. Find a way to forgive yourself. This is one of those places where journal writing can be so helpful. Don’t keep these feelings private or buried. When brought to the light of day, they diminish in their intensity. If you can’t get over your guilt on your own, consider obtaining professional help. There are many good therapists qualified to help you.

Anger is another feeling common to grief. It needs expressing too in a healthy and acceptable manner. Here again journal writing is an excellent resource for working through anger. Support groups are another resource for helping with both your anger and guilt. Sharing in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding eases the loneliness you feel as you give expression to difficult feelings.

Don’t be surprised if friends and even relatives are uncomfortable around you. They want to ease your pain but frequently do not know how to do it. Tell them what you need and be patient with their clumsiness and cliches. If a particular friend or relative is unable to support you in your grief, seek out someone who can.

Children are often forgotten grievers within families. Children experience many of the same emotions you are having. Be open to their needs. Allow them to grieve in their own way. Share your thoughts and tears with them. Listen to their feelings, concerns and needs. They need to feel loved as they pass through their own grief just as you do.

Avoid the use of (street) drugs and alcohol. Medications should be taken sparingly and only under the supervision of your physician. Drugs and alcohol are not friends of the grief process. They block the natural feelings of grief and thereby delay or prevent healing.

Whenever possible, put off making major decisions (like moving, changing jobs, etc.) for at least a year. Avoid making hasty decisions about what to do with your loved one’s possessions. Don’t allow others to take over or to rush you. Take your time. Do what needs to be done in small steps. Grief cannot be rushed.

Holidays and the anniversaries associated with the loved one’s life are stressful. Plan how to spend these days in advance with an eye to having those who are emotionally sensitive to your needs in your plans. In your plans allow some time and space to be alone too.

Finally, grief does not last forever. In time the feelings of unbearable pain turn into bearable sorrow. Joy, laughter and a zest for living return as the grief subsides — just as your loved one would want for you. Having good feelings does not mean you no longer miss your loved one or that you no longer care. It means you have completed the grief process and are ready to reenter life in its fullness.

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