Coping with Loss & Grief
While on chaplain duty at the Base Hospital in Dubbo, NSW, the sister in charge of the medical block suggested that I pay a visit to Kathy, an Aboriginal lady who shared a room with an old lady named Mavis.
When I entered the room I introduced myself and spoke to Kathy. She made me feel welcome but told me that she was nervous at the thought of being transferred to Sydney for major surgery. After a while I turned to talk with Mavis but she didn't want to speak to me and got out of bed and left the room.
Kathy, who came from Brewarrina, New South Wales, had never been to Sydney and was frightened at being alone in an unknown place. She feared that she would not survive the surgery and would never see her children again. As I listened to her I realised that her fears had triggered a real sense of loss and parting, and that she was experiencing severe grief and its hurt.
Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Mavis had quietly slipped back into the room. She had been standing just outside the door listening to all that was said. Kathy and I kept talking.
"They haven't got a clue what's wrong with me!" Mavis eventually blurted out as she sat on the edge of her bed.
"Haven't they?" I replied as I turned and faced her.
"I've had every test, but nothing will do any good." she said angrily. "I'm sick and tired of it all."
"What is making you tired? Mavis" I asked her quietly.
"All this hospital stuff." she responded. "They don't know what's wrong with me. They don't know what I have been through."
"You must have been through something terrible to feel so sick and tired." I replied.
There was a long silence. I waited.
At last she spoke.
"I've got nobody left. That's what's up with me!" she said softly, choking back the tears.
I moved close to her and took her hand.
"Mavis, have you talked to anyone about it." I asked.
"No." She replied. "They're all dead. People keep telling me I mustn't cry, and that I have to be brave and get on with my life."
"Would you like to talk to us about it?" I asked her.
For the next half hour Mavis told us about a series of six deaths within the past 18 months that had robbed her of her loved ones. In sheer isolation and loneliness, a long way out from Bourke, she had tried to handle the loss on her own, having no one who could share the hurt that was in her aching heart. The hurt began to manifest itself in physical symptoms and the doctors subjected her to numerous tests, but the results showed that nothing appeared to be wrong with her. What they didn't show, was that her suffering was indeed real, but it could not be scientifically measured and reported. Mavis was suffering from the pains of grief and grief hurts.
Suffering caused by grief cannot be scientifically measured
One research study shows that there can be up to a 600% higher admission rate to general hospitals among those who suffer grief than the general population. A large number of admissions to hospitals and clinics are the result of acute grief.
With the aged, where a loved one is lost by sudden death, the incidence of a second death within 18 months is extremely high. But with skilled caring support the incidence of these second deaths can be reduced by up to 80 %
Sandy and Mel were being very brave. Their new born baby had died suddenly. As they they stood with me by the graveside and saw their baby girl being laid to rest, they comforted each other and pledged that they would give their full love and attention to each other and their three year old boy.
Sandy was a sweet placid person and Mel was easy going. But within two years Sandy left Mel and went to live interstate with another man .
After the baby's death they both became very quiet. They told me they still loved each other, but they just didn't talk much anymore. In their silence they even blamed each other for the baby's death, and anger and resentment festered. This consolidated the breakdown in communication.
One day, Sandy met Laurence while she was working as a waitress at a nearby motel. Laurence was on his way home to Melbourne. His wife had died and he was sad, lonely and not well. Without warning or reason, Sandy left Mel and her little boy and went off to Melbourne to care for Laurence for a while.
In her worst dreams, Sandy's mother never imagined that Sandy would do what she did. There was an uproar from family and friends, and intense protest from Mel. However when Sandy came home, neither of them recognised and admitted to the real problem - unresolved grief and deep seated, non verbalised pain.
A deepening silence continued between them.
Sandy finally went back to Melbourne and didn't return. She left her husband and her beloved child, her home, and her mother and father whom she loved dearly. She left for a man who offered her what she could not find at home ... support to help resolve the grief.
It is not unusual to go elsewhere to try to find what cannot be found at home Couples who lose a small child or baby are at risk of a 50 - 80% chance of divorce within the first year after the death. Although it is not clear what the ratio is, the loss of older children, adolescents and young adults, can have a devastating effect upon the relationship between the parents.
It seems that in these circumstances, spouses hurt so badly that they are unable to support each other as they could and would in a less traumatic crisis. Failure to receive support leads to anger and resentment that eventually leads to a complete breakdown in communication.
No account can be given of the effects of unresolved grief on the population of a country which has been involved in a war.
A 14 year research study has shown that there is a relationship between spontaneous regression and the occurrence of a damaging emotional experience in cancer patients prior to the regression.
Loss and grief and physical and emotional illnesses
Many believe that the failure to do effective grief resolution work, has a large bearing on the psychophysiological illnesses, and the aggressive and violent acts we witness in our society.
After Mavis had shared her sorrow with Kathy and me in their hospital room, I loaned her a copy of Good Grief, a small book on the grief process by Granger E. Westberg. I encouraged her to read it and told her I would be back a day later to see how she was going. When I returned to her room she was gone. She had booked herself out of the hospital, telling the medical staff that she now knew what she had to do for herself. She left a message thanking me for listening and praying for her and Kathy, and for my book which she said she had taken to loan to some others she knew needed help beyond the back of Bourke. I haven't seen Mavis or my book since then, but I know she was the kind of person who could do a lot of good for others once she was healed of her grief..
Grief resolution enhances the healing process. Like the common cold, which can lead to serious disorders if left unattended, grief which is common to all, can lead to very serious disorders if not attended to in the appropriate way.