Coping with Loss & Grief

Module 3 page 5


The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
— George Bernard Shaw

Re-adjustment to life after the loss of a loved one must begin in three areas -

Communication . . . Participation . . . Relationship

Death, divorce and all other types of severe loss, threaten our emotional, physical, social and spiritual well-being. Life comes to a standstill for many grieving people. By saying, "I feel dead inside," I have no interest in living again" or "I feel as if part of me has died," a person is showing their despair of ever getting over their loss. People suffering from the loss of a significant personal relationship need resuscitation. Their lives need readjusting in those areas of relationships, communication and participation. This is what Larry Yeagley calls the CPR process.

Communication is severely affected when a person loses a loved one. Love and trust enabled them to talk together about anything and everything. The sharing of common chit chat as well as personal intimacies were a transparent part of life. They could be sounding boards to each other without damaging their standing with each other. They could be sure of a positive response when they expressed their affection. But when the axe of death fell, communication, in its ideal state, was cut off.

The first compulsion the grieving person has is to talk about his or her lost loved one. It is not unusual for hours to be spent in talking about the events surrounding the death. Memories pour forth on friends and family. There is this imperative urge to talk about the loss. However this urge to communicate about the loss is not always carried out in practice because some people find it difficult to talk. They are afraid of the emotional pain of expression.

Silence is not unusual
If there is no communication with family members let alone close friends, this can deteriorate to the point of complete isolation. However, even in this state of withdrawal, there is this a raging urge to express these imprisoned feelings.

Multitudes of people are unable to talk about their feelings
By simply talking about the loss, it is common to hear of deaths that occurred earlier in a person's life for which there was no emotional release .

Families that keep things to themselves generally raise children who, when faced with grief in later life, cannot bring themselves to talk about it.

In Australia there are parents and wives who "could not bring themselves to talk about it" for years after losing a son or husband in a war.

In some cases there are those who long to talk about the death of their loved one for many months after the funeral but those who listened at the time of the funeral are no longer in the mood to listen.

Then there is the problem of imposition. People don't talk and therefore withdraw because of the fear of driving people away from them. This unwillingness to talk may only be imagined. In fact, their friends could well be waiting for the opportunity to support them.

The response, "I don't want to hear about it," is a fairly common line used in families where communication has deteriorated. It is quite common for an unspoken agreement to develop in which nobody will bring up the topic.

It is a sad fact in our society that grieving people feel that nobody seems to care enough to listen to them and that there is no place for them to talk.

Our privatised environment doesn't make it easy to talk about sad things.

Grieving people need to understand that it is not a sign of weakness for them to seek counsel from people in the helping professions such as a pastor, counsellor or physician. Support groups and seminars can provide an opportunity to reestablish communication again. Once the lines of communication are renewed, pain begins to grow less and control begins to emerge over circumstances which seemed uncontrollable.

So much of what we do in life involves people we love. When those people die, these activities become meaningless and downright depressing. So much attention is given to the loss itself that there is no emotional energy left to do much else.

The ultimate step in grief recovery is to get back into life - to return to usual activities. Constructive action is essential for the emotional, physical, social and spiritual dimensions of the person, but this can only happen by starting slowly. You gradually expand your participation until you experience a new sense of adequacy for the tasks of life.

Guilt feelings often overwhelm those who attempt at getting involved again
It seems that laughing once more or going to a party is an act of disloyalty to their deceased loved one. The first real urge to socialise with a person of the opposite sex causes a widow or widower to feel guilty. A family picnic after the death of a child can have real guilt effects. However all of this is to be expected. Don't let anything deter you from legitimate re-involvement.

Returning to work can be a problem
Often people have a fear of not being able to cope emotionally. They fear breaking down in public. The rule however is, if a person allows him or her self to weep openly in the privacy of their home, the chances of them doing so in public is minimised.

Returning to church is often quite hard
Sitting alone near the place where the loved one once sat, singing favourite hymns and reliving the funeral service are intense emotional strains. The person needs to go back to church one step at a time. Arriving late and leaving early can help for a while. Coming just for the sermon is not a bad starting point. As time passes the full service will be enjoyed once more.

If you continue to put off going out to public gatherings, then a new withdrawn life will begin to grow instead of the natural one. Whether you feel like it or not, you need to get into the 'swing of things' again.

Try to participate in activities that you enjoy
Let go of those activities that you once did just for the sake of togetherness.
Your lifestyle can now be altered to meet your present needs.

Once the acute stages of grief are past, it is time to start giving as well as receiving.

Grieving people who suffer from the lack of relationships will find it helpful to go to a convalescent or aged-care home and ask the administrator if there is one lonely person who needs a visit. If you visit that person, listen twice as much as you speak. Listen while that old person tells you about the 'good old days'. Before you leave, express your gratitude that he or she shared some of their life with you and how this has brought some warmth into your life.

Meaningful relationships are shrinking in this age of "every man for himself." Personal action can make a difference

I remember the time when I only just managed to get it into a packed elevator. As the doors closed behind me, I observed that all eyes were fixed on the floor level indicator. Because I had squeezed in and could not turn around, I found myself face to face with those stony faced strangers. No one spoke except me. They avoided looking at me. So I decided it was time for a chat. Here was a captive audience. A few cheery words with those people whom I never saw again was a memorable worthwhile experience. The next time you get into an elevator try reaching out to others. Reaching out to others is a great experience even though you may never see those people again.

Work at renewing old relationships
Take an interest in old friends, have them over for a meal, don't be afraid to be open with them. Renew old acquaintances by letter. Share photos and send unexpected tokens of friendship.

Reaching out will continue to create new friendships. Love, relatedness, purpose and meaning in life, have their source in a relationship with God. Illness and major crisis such as death, divorce and rejection, have a way of impairing a person's ability to be aware of Gods' desire for a close relationship. This causes a person to feel hopeless, unloved and unforgiven. This in fact, amounts to a temporary loss of faith which in turn makes it difficult for a person to feel good about themself and others. Unless there is a reconciliation with the Source of all relationships, re-establishing human relationships is hindered.

When the numbness of grief strikes, a person is often powerless to reach out on his or her own. What is often needed is a catalyst - another person to bring about the "CPR" of recovery and the renewal of faith.

The 'Helper Catalyst' is effective when the characteristics listed in the Action Plan are exercised.

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

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