We all suffer personal losses — loved ones’ deaths, financial disasters, disabling injuries and illnesses, failures, disappointments, and more. They’re all part of living of course, and we react to them with an assortment of “downers.”
I’m no professional advisor — that’s the therapists’ and counselors’ realm -- but I do have some hopefully enlightening impressions to share with you.
Summarizing, here’s what I think I’ve learned about grieving from the professionals and from life’s experience:
As I understand it, our emotions, both conscious and not, influence our thoughts and behavior far more strongly than does our willful, conscious, reasoning. So goes it with grieving. Sure, we know that, and behavioral scientists and grief counselors certainly concur.
But that grieving is perfectly normal, reasonable, rational, and yes, even good for us. The wisdom is that grieving, along with mourning, indeed is therapeutic in coping with them. Unless seriously excessive, grieving is not by itself an indication of weakness, ignorance, stupidity, illness, personality disorder, low self-worth, or any other “me-problem.”
Rather, when it’s allowed to function normally, grieving soothes, heals, and nurtures our damaged egos, repairing the emotional damage and even the physical impairments that our feelings have wrought. The good happens when we welcome and nourish the grieving, whether it’s ours or loved ones.’
So, if we interfere with grieving by suppressing or discouraging it, or by thinking of it as undignified, a show of weakness, shameful, stigmatized, harmful and all those other taboos, we’re worsening and prolonging the damage. Suppressing, inhibiting, and disdaining grieving are exactly opposite to what’s good for us.
Mother Nature is trying to heal us, so why stonewall her?
No, let it all hang out! That is, short of excessive, bizarre, dangerous, or masochistic hyperthoughts and behaviors, of course.
Given sufficient time and thought to heal, most of us gradually fashion a more-or-less comfortable and manageable memory niche in our minds for the grievous event or the departed loved one, and we then fully resume our lives. We can help to expedite and to maximize that healing by engaging in some self-therapies, starting with embracing the comforting fact that grieving is normal.
Then, let’s assure ourselves, and our other loved ones when appropriate, that the preservation of full and permanent memory and feelings about the lost loved one or the grievous event does not require us to sacrifice desirable aspects of our many-faceted lives permanently. While doing that and working through the grieving in our own way and in our own time, let’s also avoid inhibiting therecovery by neglecting to take good care of ourselves, physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually.
No doubt you’ve noted already that the process requires limitless patience. “In our own time” means that we’re not about to speed it up, even if it lasts to some degree or other for months or over a year. We also should expect to invest effort — it won’t happen on its own. Obviously too, emotional pain is what grieving’s all about, and we should expect, feel, and let it happen.
Wise, too, is the idea of talking the matter over with charismatic and compassionate listeners, and welcoming their helpful responses. That’s outreach — helping us to pull ourselves away from stewing in our own juice of self-pity. So is the benefit that comes from helping someone else with their challenges.
The pro’s stress the point that just as each one of us is a unique and individual personality, each of us also grieves in our own unique fashion and in our own time. Let’s not be critical of what works for someone else, nor bother them because we think that our way is better. Let’s not be condescending, judgmental, or “accommodating,” either.
How warming and uplifting it must feel when we communicate messages like this one to a grieving person: “Sure, you’re feeling upset about it. I care, too, about your loss and about you. Here’s my phone number; I want to be here for you when you’d like me to be .”
Isn’t that approach far more welcome than proclamations like: “You poor thing. You’ll get over it, though, believe me. Don’t cry. You’re foolish to let it get you down. You should do__________; I’m telling you that’s the best way to handle it. By the way, I’m awfully busy, but I’ll try to get around to doing __________for you.”?
Let’s be genuinely supportive, understanding, and encouraging. Let’s honor and respect our and Loved Ones’ self-esteem. In times of distress, feelings are so easily hurt, aren’t they? Professionals seem to emphasize the helpfulness of simply being there sincerely, in body and spirit. And the most therapeutic part of “being there” is simply open-minded listening. It’s not our role to think up smart solutions; we aren’t expected to. We can be good at pro-active listening, and it works.
Sure, there are times when others’ help is desirable, even needed, and always should be welcomed. Counseling agencies abound and mental health professionals are there for those afflicted by feelings that overwhelm their own abilities to recover from, or who wisely merely want assistance with coping.
We learn to notice clues to Loved One’s, or our own, need for professional assistance. Some examples:
▪ One willfully or unwillfully neglects taking care of oneself.
▪ Other activities and thoughts that “just aren’t like him/her” occur.
▪ Major decisions are made impulsively, hastily -- strange and surprising ones.
▪ One’s personal problems invade the grief and intensify it.
▪ The person withdraws into self, seeking isolation.
▪ Disproportionately high negative emotions (guilt, anger, anxiety, etc.) persist.
▪ One assumes Loved One’s traits, even disease symptoms.
▪ Alcohol and other harmful social drug substances become prime coping tools.
▪ Disproportionate sadness, even clinical depression, develops.
▪ Self-destructive thoughts and actions persist, maybe even suicidal ones
▪ Profound changes in personality and social relationships develop.
▪ Desirably (as above) offered help is firmly and consistently refused.
▪ There’s consistent long-term deterioration throughout one’s world.
▪ With all of this, personality disorders (we’ve explored some) worsen.
One of our professional CCU/OLLI seminar guest presenters, Debra Carnoso, widely-experienced clinical social worker and bereavement counselor, underscores all of this in her fascinating presentations, and emphasizes how helpful grief and bereavement counseling can be, both in individual and group settings.
The “how-to” tips, techniques, support, and insights about managing grief, mourning, and bereavement that guidance counseling provides can be so therapeutic for almost everyone. Why not avail ourselves of it?
James Bowdre, also a guest presenter and leading Myrtle Beach funeralities provider, and Carole Bowdre, an authoritative author about the art of end-stage coping, concur and provide us with profound guidance. From their “The Importance of Mourning — Helping Yourself When a Loved One Dies”: “Grief is very powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In doing the work of grieving, you are changing and moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.”
So, I guess I shouldn’t suggest celebrating grieving, mourning, and bereavement.
But, surely we can welcome them comfortably and with understanding, knowledge and inspiration, and manage them positively as a normal part of living.
Surely you, too, have enlightening impressions to share with us. Please do!
Contact Gary Newman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your ideas and comments are always welcome.