Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 28, 2002
Running grief's gamut hurts
Each mourns their loss in their own way
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Grief "is a very big stress; it's like an open wound" which takes time and patience to heal, says Theresa King, coordinator of the suicide bereavement program at The Support Network, an agency that offers counselling and information for people in distress.
"And like all wounds, it leaves a scar."
People go through grief every time they suffer a loss, be it death, separation or divorce. People grieve even when they lose a job, a home, a limb and a pet.
"Grief is actually a process one goes through that involves your brain, your heart, even your ability to move in the morning: It can be that debilitating," says Kari Olson, coordinator of Catholic Social Services' New Beginnings.
New Beginnings is a live-in weekend retreat for people who have lost a life partner through death, separation or divorce.
The grieving process is exhausting and frightening because it must be faced when peoples' physical and emotional resources are at a low. But it is normal. "When people are grieving we treat it as something abnormal but losing someone you love and being sad about it is very, very natural," King said.
How long does the grieving process last? There is no timetable for its resolution, according to King. "It just takes a long time and there are really not any steps," she said. "A person would often visit certain emotions, you may be very angry and then you are accepting and then something else will happen in your life and it'll act like a magnifying glass and bring that grief back. It's like waves, sort of up and down grief that doesn't go neatly from step one to step two."
Grieving is unique to each person. "Each person reacts very differently; it depends on the role they had with the deceased, how the person died, what sort of support they had," King said. "It can take two to five years to integrate the pain and a person is often very changed from grief."
Both King and Olson said every aspect of a person is involved in the grief process, including the physical, social, spiritual and psychological. "The feelings of grief are chaotic and strong, particularly in the early months after a loss," Olson said.
The initial shock of a loss may affect the thinking processes of the mourner. There can be a sense of unreality. Memory and concentration are disrupted. Confusion and irrational thinking are common for a period of time. Apathy or hyperactivity can also occur.
Grief hits the body
Physical reactions include shock or numbness, periods of intense anxiety, lethargy or ongoing tiredness or insomnia. Specific pains may also be present. "Grieving is a time when there are a lot of changes in the body because of the stress," King noted.
For a short time after the loss there is frequently numbness or anxiety, and an absence of emotion. However, this soon changes, and a rich array of emotions begins to surface. Classic grief emotions include sadness, yearning or craving for the lost person, anger and guilt. Yet any other feeling is also appropriate. Anything goes. The grieving person is suddenly and unexpectedly up and down with their feelings, without quite knowing what will come when.
Depression settles in
"A lot of times depression comes into it as well because you feel like you are the only person going through this, because you don't know where to turn, because you don't know what to do and you don't know how to handle these feelings or these emotions," noted Olson.
There are also spiritual changes. Confusion may take the place of what seemed to be a secure and stable belief in God. This often happens when the deceased person is young and the loss seems so senseless.
"It can take two to five years to integrate the pain and a person is often very changed from grief."
- Theresa King
Some believers become angry with God and abandon their faith. However, others who previously did not believe begin to do so.
Some react to a loss by isolating themselves. The key word here is loneliness. Early on, there are lots of people around, yet because of the shock and numbness, one is detached in the midst of a crowd. Later, old friends may abandon the mourner, which causes new pain. This likely happens because the friends or family are not sure what to say or do, and so avoid contact.
"Grieving is hard work and everyone grieves differently," King stressed. "For instance, a parent grieving the loss of a child who has chosen to die from suicide will have possibly a lot more issues and guilt and sadness to deal with than someone who is mourning the death of an elderly parent.
"They are both in pain, but in one you can say this is God's decision but in the other you know it was the individual's decision and that can be so hard."
To get through grief one has to first of all accept that the person is dead, reach out, communicate and "start taking care of yourself," King recommended. "You need a lot of patience with yourself when you are grieving and our society is not a very patient society. And people are not all better in even a year and things very seldom, if ever, go back to being exactly the same."
It's hard to heal just by yourself and even more difficult in a complicated death like suicide. "If you are dealing with a traumatic death, like suicide, you should seek the company of people who are not judging you and who have the gift of understanding," said King. People often refer to the support groups as safe because they are able to talk and nobody is judging them."
Healthy grieving to King "is people who acknowledge the pain, reach out when they need help and communicate quite readily. Either talk or write or draw but get (your feelings and emotions) out, don't stuff them inside. When you are stuffing grief issues inside often what happens is you end up isolating yourself from other people and it becomes a very lonely, sad place."
A helping hand
New Beginnings is held two or three times a year and is designed for those ready to move on from their grieving to make a new start in life regardless of the length of time since their loss. "It guides them through processes that will help them to make their lives better," Olson said. A new Beginnings retreat weekend will be held Nov. 1-3 at Star of the North Retreat Centre, 3A St. Vital Avenue, St. Albert. To register call (780) 420-6081. Cost is $250 including meals and accommodation.
The Support Network offers walk-in counselling as well as suicide information, bereavement and education. It also operates a 24-hour distress line to help people in crisis. For further information on Suicide Bereavement Services contact the network at 482-0198, ext. 228.