Let’s Talk About GRIEF
Have you ever considered the varying degrees and ways you, or someone you know, might feel and express their grief? Perhaps you have experienced grief first hand. You may have lost a parent, a partner, friend or child and can relate. Contrastingly, you may have minimal experience, somewhat limiting your ability to relate or feel compassionate towards those bereaved.
As a nation, what exactly are Australian’s attitudes and behaviours towards those facing grief?
A recent article quoted Family Therapist, Emily Adams who believes ‘we have a cultural expectation of claiming to be okay very quickly after a loss.’¹ Adams states that because we have this expectation of ‘everything’s fine,’ when things are not fine it can be quite difficult for those in our community who are experiencing grief to reach out for help. This, in turn, can add further anxiety to the bereaved.
With that sentiment in mind, have you ever considered how comfortable you are at engaging with friends or family in conversations about their grief? If your answer is, ‘that sounds uncomfortable’, or even ‘very uncomfortable’ – you are not alone. However, learning more about grief may help you to feel more at ease about starting up a conversation or reaching out to someone you know who is suffering from a loss.
To better understand grief and become more comfortable with the feelings, get to know the five stages of grief below. Keeping in mind though that people often bounce from stage to stage and back again.
DENIAL – this helps us to survive the loss and make sense of the overwhelming shock. We can feel numb to the loss as a way to cope or slow down the absorbing and processing of such a painful experience, survive the loss and make sense of this overwhelming shock in our lives. We can begin to feel numb to the loss and try not to feel what has happened as a way to cope or to slow down the absorbing and processing of such a painful experience.
ANGER – Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. The more you genuinely feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.² Grief can feel like being abandoned, deserted or even lost at sea. We can begin directing our anger at all sorts of people. In time anger becomes easier to manage as we start to process this stage of our loss.¹
BARGAINING – At this point, we begin trying to bargain with God to make changes. For example, “if you do this God, I will change that and never sin again.” We can begin to live in the ‘what ifs,’ looking to avoid the pain of our loss or injury in an attempt to rescue our loved one.
We want life returned to what it was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time, recognise the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening… if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. This stage is about negotiating our way out of the pain.
DEPRESSION – At this stage, we can experience grief, intense sadness and emptiness on a more profound level. This is the appropriate response to great loss and may begin to feel like it will never go away. We may start to withdraw from any social activities and from the activities we usually participate in during our daily lives. This is a very necessary step towards healing and is not deemed a mental illness but a natural, essential and progressive response to loss.
ACCEPTANCE – We may never be okay with the loss of a loved one. This stage is not about liking what has happened. But rather about reaching an acceptance of the permanence and reality of our loss. Eventually, we will learn to live our lives as a readjustment to life without our loved one. We can also experience a range of emotions including guilt.
Every individual grieves in their own way. It’s key to remember that while you may not know what stage a friend or family member is experiencing, following the social norms and avoiding the topic, may not be the answer.
In fact, avoiding the topic may act to exacerbate the pain of someone grieving. In some cases, the bereaved may be left feeling their loved one, maybe their late husband, Mother or dear friend, has been forgotten. It may also rob that person from an opportunity to ask for support or simply talk, reminisce and process their loss.
Yes, it may feel uncomfortable but as a community, let’s not avoid the topic of grief any longer. Instead ask more questions, be a good listener and support a family member or friend in need. Together, we can share in the healing process.
I’ll leave you with this lasting thought, ‘a man is not dead while his name is still spoken’, Terry Pratchett.