Coping with Loss & Grief

Elements of Grief

Module 1 page 3


"Grief and sadness knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger than common joys."
Alphonse De Lamartine
Ted was good at his trade. He was always in demand as a carpenter and joiner and was used to people depending on him to do a craftsman's job; he enjoyed the reputation of being the best in his trade.

Ted met Mary when they were in their teens. Their marriage was a good one and as Ted's customers depended on him, Ted depended on Mary. He never had to turn his hand to cooking and preparing meals, he had no idea how to operate the washing machine and couldn't iron his clothes. He always left the shopping and house management to Mary and gave her full responsibility for handling their personal finances. He believed her when she told him that the only thing he should be concerned with was his work; to be the world's best carpenter and to leave the rest to her.

They had been married forty three happy years when she was killed in the seat beside him ... and he was the driver.

Apart from trying to struggle with the "If only" syndrome, Ted now had problems he never expected. To start with he couldn't find anything. He was not only off his food because of his loss, but every miserable meal reminded him of how good a cook Mary was. His food was tasteless and boring, and to make matters worse his dog wouldn't even eat it. Nowadays, not only did he find himself in a mess in the house , but his finances were no better. Trying to cope with the constant barrage of bills and payments literally made him sick. His life seemed out of focus and out of balance. In fact he really began to believe that he was losing his sanity.

Ted's prolonged grief and disorientation was due to the fact that he had allowed Mary to unwittingly set him up for it. At home he was totally dependent on her. He had allowed her to 'mother' him and in doing so, in her love and loyalty, she didn't realise what a disservice she was doing to him.

Ted wasn't losing his sanity, he was going through the normalisation process of grief, but his grief had complications because of the circumstance in which he now found himself. Things would have been different if Mary had outlived Ted . . . or would they?

In grief, some people have a fair idea of what to expect but most enter grief unprepared.

Every person is different and consequently will grieve in a unique way. It is unfair to expect another to grieve in the same way as you do or have done, and it is unwise to believe that you will have the same grieving experience as another person.

Factors Affecting Grief

The age of the grieving person
Generally, younger people have larger circles of supporting relationships to help them cope in periods of loss. These circles constrict as we get older and Opportunities for building new relationships diminish. The effects of age on health is also another influence which can hinder recovery from a major loss.

The manner of death or loss
Sudden and tragic death is considered extremely difficult to cope with. Most would agree that grieving over the suicide of a loved one would take on different dimensions of grieving than if the person died of a prolonged illness. The death of an infant will require different terms of painful adjustment for a young parent. The same applies with children at the death of a young parent. People suffering from Carer's Fatigue after the long term illness of a loved one who suffered emaciation and deformity prior to death, require patient understanding from those who are close to them.

Shock seems to be a natural anaesthetic which prevents physical and mental breakdown upon hearing the news of the loss of a loved one.

Prior warning
Some people are able to do much grieving before the death which seems to lessen the effects of grief after the event. However, if the friends or family cannot bring themselves to talk openly about the imminent death, prior warning does not help much. Lack of openness and intimacy can produce guilt, bitterness and blaming. But if extra energy is put into ensuring real quality of life for everyone concerned, then grief after death will be easier.

The personality of the survivor
The independent person can often recover easier than a person who is very dependent on the lost loved one. Responsibilities in life, for which a person is not prepared, impedes healthy adjustment.

Life experiences while growing up
Evidence seems to suggest that generally people who have suffered a number of deprivations in their formative years are better able to handle losses of all kinds.

Relationship and interactions with the person who died
Often grieving goes well if the relationship with the person who died went well. Too often people are caught in the "If only" syndrome. They often will say things such as "If only she had lived a bit longer I could have really shown how much I loved her..." or, "If only I hadn't said what I did." We need to work at relationships and interactions so that in the end the "If only" syndrome will be superseded by the "I'm so glad that I . . . ." feeling.

When in grief, you are like a circle pushed and pulled out of shape by internal pressures. Grief pushes and pulls a person out of shape

Recovery is the process of normalisation
The process of grieving cannot be charted as an ascending line. There are always set-backs along the way. Holidays and anniversaries have a way of causing regression. However the resurrected suffering becomes less intensive as time goes by.

"Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder if the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat." (C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed.)

It is dangerous to try to shun or escape grief. Soon or later it will catch up with you - one way on another. Whether you have lost a loved one through death or divorce, or are facing the death of someone dear to you, or even your own death, don't try to stop grief from happening. Let it come naturally, for strange as it may seem, it is a healing process.


Discovery . . . Relief . . . Recovery . . . Hope

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