Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011 12:15 am
Normalizing grief By Sandra Jordan St. Louis American
It is one of the most unhappy and painful of human conditions, but it is something everyone experiences in one form or another - grieving the loss of someone you know or love. It can be particularly difficult if the death is sudden or through an act of violence.
Grieving is a healthy response to major loss and should be allowed to take its course.
Grief and mourning are different.
Grief is the inward, general feeling or condition and mourning is the outward, active expression of that grief - such as crying; leaving flowers, stuffed animals or balloons at the scene of a crime or a gravesite; or wearing black to a funeral.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) says children who are frightened to go to a funeral should not be forced to attend. Children, like adults, need to express their grief in their own way - perhaps paying their respects and honoring the person's memory by lighting a candle (depending on the age), saying a prayer, making a scrapbook, reviewing photographs, or talking about the person.
Once children accept the death, AACAP says kids are likely to feel sadness on and off over a long period of time, and often at unexpected moments. The surviving relatives should spend as much time as possible with the child, making it clear that the child has permission to show his or her feelings openly or freely.
The point is - each person expresses his or her grief individually and the process should be respected and without judgment or comparison to someone else's expressions, expectations or perceived duration.
How do you get through it?
Experts say one day at a time, with help and support of others.
"People feel helpless around [a person in grief]. They don't know what to say, they don't know how to fix things - we are a very ‘Fix It' society," explains Peggy Tyson, director of clinical services for the Crime Victim Advocacy Center in St. Louis. "Grief is not a problem to be solved. It's a normal event to be worked through and companioned through and that's what I do for people - I companion them through their grief; and normalize and validate all of those feelings."
The center offers no-cost counseling to clients who are working through a loss due to the commission of a crime. Formerly known as Aid for Victims of Crime, the organization has been in existence since 1972 and is funded through the United Way; Missouri Foundation for Health; private donations; and federal and state programs, including the Crime Victim Compensation Program, which is subsidized by criminal court fees.
"They pay a certain amount of medical bills if you've been assaulted or raped; they pay burial costs up to $5,000; they see if you qualify for lost wages; and they also offer psychological reimbursement for counseling - my counseling is free," says Tyson, who says most of their clients come through word-of-mouth.
Cry when you need to cry - and don't try to hide your sadness for fear of not being seen as the strong one, Tyson recommends.
And don't get overwhelmed by family or cultural traditions that people will impose when someone dies.
"I get people in here all the time who said, ‘Well, I gave his things away. And everybody's like, ‘How could you do that so quickly?' versus the next client, who says ‘I haven't given his things away - I haven't changed his room.' And they say I need to get in there and change that,'" she says. "Both situations are whatever works for you. If you are in that position and you don't feel like you want to give away their things yet - don't give away their things. It's not healthy or unhealthy."
However you grieve is okay, as long as it does not disrupt your ability to function. The National Institutes of Health says grief and loss can affect your overall health and could lead those who are prone, to depression, excessive alcohol or drug use. Grief interfering with your daily life may be a symptom of a more serious behavioral health condition, such as major depression, which needs treatment by a doctor or behavioral health professional.
"When we enter that kind of complicated, stuck place is when you have a shrine built up of pictures and mementos and you're feeling stuck and guilty if you take down pictures, they're not helping you to move through your grief and to mourn," Tyson says.
What do you say to someone who has lost a special someone?
There are plenty of things that fall under the category of "What not to say."
Believe it or not, people can say some amazingly insensitive things in their effort to cheer someone up when they are hurting - like, "You have two other children," - "My mom can be your mom now," or "You are young and you can get married again."
Think before you speak.
Whatever you say, it should comfort the person with the loss - not you.
"What's comforting to the person is to say, ‘I am really sorry'; bringing up the loved one; asking about them - regardless to whether it brings tears or anger or whatever it is; you allow that person to get out some of the things they need to get out," Tyson recommends.
And have a supportive, listening ear when they want to talk.
Persons can also grieve from the loss of a significant relationship, a job; a theft; a chronic illness that affects their quality of life or an illness to which there is no cure. The grieving process takes as long as takes to accept and adjust to life without that person.
"Research shows that it's three to five years before you get used to that hole in your life - you've kind of built around it - that hole in your heart that is very painful," Tyson says.
"We talk a lot about managing your pain. Not getting rid of it, not forgetting --
forgiving and forgetting," she says. "We talk a lot about managing that loss so you can figure out how to go on your life without that person."
For more information, visit www.supportvictims.org; Parents of Murdered Children at pomc.org; Bereaved Parents of the USA at bereavedparentsusa.org and the Office for Victims of Crime at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc or crimevictims.gov.