Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are You Dealing With Grief?

What is grief?  Most of us don't understand what it is until we experience a significant loss or lose someone close to us.  Until going through these types of circumstances, we may not realize that it isn't just intense saddness.  Grief is known as an adaptive emotion.  With losses of significant impact, a person has to adapt to someone or some thing in their lives not being there.  Grief has a significant amount of change built into it.  You not only feel the loss but you have to change the way you live and think in connection with the loss.  Additionally, there is a component to it where everything feels the world and your presence in it has no purpose.  Often, when you enter into the process, you begin talking about it and may find many people who feel or have felt that way.

Some of the circumstances we face throughout our lives with regard to grief can range from the loss of a career, the loss of a limb, the loss of a child or a parent.  Other things that can produce grief are losses that don't seem as important.  These might include the loss of a dream.  Connected with divorce it can not only come with the loss of the marriage, but also the loss of what the relationship with that person means to the future; who you are with or without that person in your life.  People grieve the loss of the person as they believed them to be as well as the life they could have had.  This can also be inclusive of what happens when a person loses a child, miscarries a pregnancy and/or loses an adult child in an accident or combat.  To a great extent, human beings aren't built to assimilate the loss of their children.  We all understand that we will eventually lose our parents and those older members of our family, but it's harder to compute the loss of a younger person.

With regard to parents, as adults, I don't think we fully comprehend the position parents play in our lives.  They are a support.....just like bearing walls are to a house.  When you walk in a house you aren't really aware of how supportive these walls are and what their function is in making the house what it is, but take them away and the house will weaken and crack, maybe fall.  As they leave us, we must find different supports to put in place....whether they are internal or external.  The internal ones are preferred of course, but external supports are helpful too. 

In some cases, we may not realize how much parents can be a safety net in our families.  Even though we may be self supporting, capable adults.....when we lose one or both of our parents, we may discover they have held that place even though we may not have seen it.  Our parents are the ones we could always go to with questions, we could talk things over with them, brainstorm if you will.  They can be the thing in your life that has never changed....a constant that you can count on.  Parents tend to hold that place in their kids lives if they are anything close to good parents.  When they aren't, often the grief can go on and on, simply because for the child, the relationship remains in sight but is unattainable.  When our parents haven't been the stability in our lives, when we lose them we also lose the hope that one day the relationship could be better, could be restored.  That can be very difficult to move through and for some is a significant loss.

When we grow up and move out of their homes, we tend to believe that we separate from them...and we do.  However that tie is usually never severed if the parents have been nuturing and supportive.  In some cases, we don't become aware of what that tie just changes and we tend to interpret that as independence....becoming separate yet equal.  Perhaps the emptiness one feels when there are no parents left is the awareness of that next phase of life.  Could it be that what we feel at this age is similar to what a toddler feels the first time they realize mom isn't in the room with them, or that they have wandered into a different part of the house and are alone?  We think at this age that we're all grown up, but perhaps that isn't the case.  At this point, mom and dad have done their job and its over....death is the final step to independence.  Yes, we miss them but grief is more than missing them.  It says to us that now its up to us, we are truly on our own.  There is a maturing in that.  That is the adaptive process.  We not only feel that huge loss, but we are adapting to being the older generation.  We now have to be for our kids what our parents were for us and that can be a big step......the protective covering is gone.  We must now provide that.  It's a spiritual growth as well as a developmental maturing.

Missing the person can be difficult, but over time that tends to resolve. The adaptive process becomes how you live without the person. You may not doing anything really different than you have done in the past....its just that you are doing it without that person or that job or whatever the loss has been. Part of the grief process causes us to mature in ways that we didn't know were still left to develop.

According to Erik Erickson, there are stages of development throughout our lifetime.  We learn, mature, change and grow up to the end of our lives.  Kohlberg identified moral stages of development that aren't quite as clear cut time wise over our lives, but they are there just the same.  If we have lived our lives well, we reach the end with few or no regrets.  If we have not, there may be a difficult process to go through at that stage.  Even as adults, we continue to mature and I sometimes believe that the hardest things are left to the end of our lives because we need that maturity and the moral integrity to go through them.  Could it be that when relationship with a parent is interrupted to soon, either by death or dysfunction, the impact to the human being is greater than we have anticipated.  Yes....we cope, but it can be much harder and there can be significant changes to the person and how they relate to others and the world around them.

Grief does have a process - Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Sadness and Acceptance.  We move in and out of the stages, back and forth sometimes but do tend to move forward over time.  Sometimes it doesn't feel very good.  It can take us by surprise, jarring our lives out of sync.  That can be part of the shock.  We can feel unmotivated, empty, depressed, insecure, lost, incapable and the list goes on and on. 

If you have experienced these things after a loss, just know the process takes as long as it takes to move through.  If you need help, be sure to ask for it.  Take care of yourself.  If you need medication or supplementation, be sure to visit your doctor.  You may need a counselor, there are good grief counselors available.  Avail yourself of Hospice services if you have those available to you.  This is a time to take care of yourself.  Just remember, you will get through is a process that you mature, adapt and move through.  The emotion is just part of it.