Coping with Loss & Grief
Looking Back & Forward
Module 2 page 3
The real man
smiles in trouble,
gathers strength from distress,
grows brave by reflection.
— Thomas Paine
I was sitting with a family in the waiting room attached to the casualty unit in a country hospital. The family were waiting for news following a tragic accident. The doctor asked to see me privately, and when we were alone, overcome with emotion and a deep sense of helplessness, he told me that he had tried everything he knew to save the man's life, but now he could do no more except to remove the life support.
The family were told the situation and invited to spend their last moments with their loved one before the action was taken. They all said their good-byes and soon returned to the waiting room. Everyone was very calm and composed, and their courage was inspiring.
When the news of death came the reactions were varied. There was the usual response of stabbing pain followed by tears. Within a short time someone said, "I feel so numb, I think I must be dying too." One member of the family who had been very quite throughout the ordeal suddenly was overcome with an outburst of anger. As I walked with them to their cars they kept saying to each other, "It can't be real . . . this isn't happening to us . . . I just can't believe it!"
Howevr, the wife and mother appeared unmoved. She didn't cry, show anger, express numbness or disbelief. She acted with complete self-control. It seemed as if she had accepted the fact, had taken everything into account, and had resolved to keep moving on. For a long time she kept 'moving on', and then it happened.
Alone, months after the funeral, when her friends and family were convinced that she had handled the loss "very well indeed," when they thought that she could now get along quite well without their support and attention, she suddenly 'crashed'. On her own, in a very lonely room, she was overwhelmed by her grief.
This lady was still living on with her loved one. While she had accepted the intellectual reality of his death, emotionally the event had not registered. It is not unusual behaviour for people to search for their lost one in the house, in a crowd or expect to see him or her return at any time.
In early grief it is natural for a person to strive to keep the relationship alive
A great amount of energy is spent to retain the sense of presence even though there is an underlying recognition that all the efforts are futile.
Saying 'good-bye' cannot be forced upon people. It is a vital event in grieving which must happen at the right time. It is better to cooperate with the early need to cling to the relationship rather than to resist it. It is not only comforting, but it also helps to start the expression of feelings. This wards off getting stuck mid-stream in the grief process.
It cannot be emphasised enough that reviewing the past with a positive attitude lays a good foundation for sound grief recovery. It helps the release of emotions. When reviewing the past, people often laugh (or cry) about past relationships and in doing so they are relaxing emotionally.
Laughter in particular is a means of expressing sorrow when tears do not come easily.
Looking back and following natural attempts to keep the relationship alive prepares the way to naturally say Good-bye. Looking back helps develop small promises of healing which in turn brings hope. Doctors, nurses, social workers, ministers, friends, neighbours and relatives and anyone who is with a person at the time of a death, need to encourage the newly bereaved person or family to tell the story of the deceased person's life.The earlier this is done the better. At death the bereaved person wants to share with someone else how worthwhile that loved one was. If this does not happen then the bereaved is left with a sense of emptiness within. To 'bottle it all up' makes future sharing of feelings difficult
Looking back helps develop small promises of healing
The bereaved may feel that those about them are tired of listening, and that their recalling of the past must sound like a 'broken record.' It is not important how the listener feels, but what is important is how the listener responds to and recognises the value of looking back for the bereaved. People who say "You've just got to stop going over all of this again and again, it's doing you no good." do not realise, that to the contrary, it is indeed doing a lot of good.
Repetition is vital
Sometimes looking back and reviewing the past will bring some hurtful and unpleasant things to the surface.Talking about negative parts of a relationship will provide the opportunity to express anger in a therapeutic way. Often the expression of guilt will also take place.
The expression of anger and guilt in a therapeutic way helps hasten recovery
The revelation of such feelings opens the way for them to be analysed and resolved.
The pain begins to mellow when life events are reviewed
An important part of the relationship that needs expression is the series of events that led up to the separation whether it be death or divorce. It is a sad and serious mistake for these to be locked away in the mind and never discussed. The pain begins to mellow when these events are reviewed.
Any part of a relationship that a person wishes to avoid, needs to be deliberately reviewed and reconstructed
"Separation from a loved one is unnatural to the mind. The cutting short of a relationship may be irreversible, but the lingering afterglow need not be denied. Totally experiencing the warmth is both comforting and preparatory to recovery." ( Grief Recovery, Larry Yeagley p33)