Up to this point in our coursework, we have discussed:
- the definition of grief
- some of the many reactions we may or may not experience when grieving
- the five stages of grief by Kubler-Ross; they were designed for patients with a terminal illness rather than people grieving a death
- how men and women grieve differently
- what, besides the death of a loved one, causes grief
- what we learned or experienced as a child has a profound effect on us as adults
In Lesson Four, we are going to focus on the grieving process itself. Here are some questions we will answer:
- Is it “normal” to grieve?
- Is the grieving process the same for everyone?
- Will we process grief the same way every time we encounter a loss experience?
- According to our friends, how are we “suppose” to act when we grieve?
- Does a grief experience change us?
Keep in mind that although we mainly discuss the experiences of grief following the death of a loved one, we can apply what we are learning to most loss experiences. Grief does not only happen to us when a death occurs. We can have different degrees of grief from job loss, divorce, life-altering illness or injury, broken friendship, abuse, abandonment. The list is endless.
The Grieving Process is:
- natural and healthy in any loss – sadness, loss, a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the wealth of other feelings and emotions you have when someone you love dies are no different from feelings of joy, happiness, etc. when something good happens in your life. You NEED to Grieve. It is a HEALTHY part of life. It is NORMAL to feel what you are feeling; you are not going crazy.
- necessary to heal mind and spirit – you may try to avoid dealing with your grief, but it is a very important part of designing a “new normal”. Your life will NEVER be as it was before your loved one died or a life-altering event occurred, such as; job loss, debilitating health issue, a divorce, and so on. If you do your “grief work” you can learn to be happy again. It will not happen overnight
- one which involves the “whole” person; the body, the mind, and the spirit – when we grieve, every part of our being is effected. How we sleep, how we eat, how we interact with others. We cannot focus on healing just one part of “us”. We must devote time to healing all the parts. We are overwhelmed if we try to do it alone.
- not governed by severe parameters – the individual flows back and forth between the side effects of grief. You do not have a list and tick off each emotion or feeling and never have to worry about it again. It’s like a roller coaster ride in the dark. You never know when a thought, feeling, event, or significant day will bring back previous feelings.
- directly influenced by the significance of the loss – the intensity and duration of the grieving process is proportional to the depth of the loss. Illustration: You feel somewhat sad when Aunt Sally dies; a distant relative whom you met once or twice in your life. Compare that loss to the death of your child or other very significant person in your life. We grieve proportionally to the emotional bond with the person or event.
The Ties That Bind
by Peggy Sweeney
Throughout our life, we meet hundreds of people. Our emotional connection varies with each life that we touch. Some of these people are mere acquaintances, while others become very close friends and confidants. This article will explore the many levels of emotional involvement as well as different types of grief.
Our initial exposure to friendship and emotional bonding began at birth. As infants and toddlers, we had closeness with parents, siblings, and other family members. As school children, we interacted with classmates, teachers, and peers. During our formative years, we defined our relationships with people by their special qualities and personalities. We preferred to socialize with family members and friends who shared similar interests or made us feel good about ourselves.
Although we may have had many friends in our lifetime, we usually have only one or two best friends. These special people leave an indelible impression on our hearts. We share quiet moments and private thoughts with them that we do not share with casual friends. They love us unconditionally. This feeling is mutual. Invisible ties that can never be broken bind us together. Our lives become deeply intertwined. We cannot imagine life without them.
Some relationships are characterized by unique traits and cannot be easily defined. It is difficult for us to put into words what makes certain relationships very special; nonetheless, we understand the concept internally. An example of this is the special bond between a parent and a child or between siblings. The depth and breadth of these unions last a lifetime and are not easily shattered.
In addition to the unique family bonds, some friendships are as tightly knit as if they were a parent-child or sibling relationship. To illustrate this, imagine the relationship between a grandfather or an uncle who assumes the role of a father figure for a child whose male parent is no longer in the child’s life for whatever reason. It is important to remember that these uniquely bonded relationships will define the way the child will grieve when this father figure dies.
A very unique grief occurs when a twin dies. Recently, I featured an article in The Road Less Traveled newsletter written by Linda Pountney: Born with a Soulmate, Living on Without Them. Please read Linda’s touching essay.
“We were 21 years old. With the same genes and a shared history, we functioned as a unit growing up. Having our own language and each other as best friends, our reliance grew. Even before birth we developed a bond, which would prove hard to break. …
“My twin’s sudden death broke an unspoken vow of protection and twin reliance. Forever changed, I would never enjoy the same innocence. My foundation was rocked to the core. Expanding my knowledge of grief and of being a twin, I forged forward to learn new facets of being present for my life alone. …” ~~an excerpt from Born with a Soulmate, Living Without Them
When someone dies, we do not mourn their death alone but also the relationship we had with them. We grieve the loss of the defining elements of our association with them. We mourn their smile, their laugh, their gentleness, or their strength. We grieve because we know that we will never feel their hugs or hear their words of encouragement again. We have lost perhaps the most important person in our life and we must continue our journey through life alone.
When my dad died many years ago, I did not grieve just for the person I knew as Charles Sweeney. His death took away the role he played in my life as father, mentor, confidant, and grandfather to my newly adopted daughter. I had to cope with, and grieve, the loss of our relationship as father and daughter and all the defining elements that relationship brought with it as well as the emotions and feelings that were special between us.
There are no easy answers for dealing with grief. We try to give the illusion that we are easily moving on and coping with our grief. Just because we would like the pain of grief to end quickly, it is not that simple. We cannot wave a magic wand and expect things to be normal. Life as we knew it will never be the same again. Normal will need to be redefined for each one of us in our own way and in our own time.
It is easy for those who are not intimately touched by grief to assume that all is well with the bereaved. Do not be fooled! It will be necessary, almost imperative, for those who grieve to be offered help for coping with their grief. Support groups, classes in grief recovery, books on grief, and other resources such as these are very important and must be continued on a routine basis over the next several years if necessary.
Healing grief is never an easy task. Although your pain and sorrow is overwhelming today, with help you can grow through your grief. Never forget that even in death the ties that bind are very strong. Memories can never be taken away. Love is forever.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.
So let’s revisit those previously asked questions and see if we are able to answer them:
Is it “normal” to grieve?
An emphatic YES!
Is the grieving process the same for everyone?
Nope, we each grieve differently and in our own time.
Will we process grief the same way every time we encounter a grief or loss experience?
No, because it will depend on many factors especially the emotional bond that we have with the person or event.
How are we suppose to act when we grieve?
For most people, they carry two masks with them at all times: the one that is a “HAPPY FACE” mask that disguises the hurt and pain they are feeling because people get tired of us taking so long to grieve. And the OTHER mask; the REAL YOU face. The one that is the sad-faced mask with red-rimmed eyes, disheveled hair, and the snot running down our chin because of the uncontrollable, gut-wrenching sobbing we cannot seem to stop because of all the PAIN we feel. We only share this mask face with people we trust. People who hold us lovingly and listen to our story 1,000 times plus one. They do not STOP us from feeling what we feel. They do not tell us HOW we should grieve, how we should FEEL, or that we MUST stop acting the way we are, or WORSE YET, that we should BE OVER IT BY NOW!
Does a grief experience change us?
FOREVER! We will never be the person we were before the death of our loved one occurred, or the life-altering event happened. BUT… the GOOD NEWS is that if we embrace our grief and journey through the grief (not avoid it), we will emerge a more warm, loving, and caring person.
This is a very powerful video about coping with grief and coping with life while grieving. Tony Griffith is a world-renowned comedian, but in 1990, he was getting his break after years of struggling to find his comedic niche. At the same time, tragedy struck his family. Although very emotional, I encourage you to watch this video in its entirety.
Consider reading from our Archives
Honoring the Person You Have Lost and Finding the Person You Will Become by Liz Murray
Ten Hard Truth About Grief by Thom Dennis
Read a Good Book
Healing Grief, Finding Peace: 101 Ways to Cope with the Death of Your Loved One by Dr. Louis LaGrand
Experiencing Life After Death: A Soul Journey that Everyone Should Take by Rev Keala Vai
The Wilderness of Grief by Alan Wolfelt
Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss by Allen Klein (death of a young spouse)
What to Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss by Bill Jenkins & Patricia Cornwell
Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide by Madeline Sharples
No Homework Homework ~ Time to Write in Your Journal
If you watched the video featuring Anthony (Tony) Griffith, answer the following questions:
- How do/did you handle your grief while dealing with ALL the other day-to-day events in your life such as, work, household chores, community responsibilities, etc.?
- What do you think Tony learned or didn’t learn as a boy-child/teen/man to cope with his grief?
- What life-altering events have you had? Did you have two masks? If so, list the times you wore the HAPPY FACE mask and when you could let down the façade and wear the REAL FACE?
Remember to continue spending at least 15 minutes every day meditating, however you define meditating
Lesson Five: Emotional Bonding