Grief happens when a person loses someone precious. It happens when you encounter losses that leave significant gaps in your life. The death of someone who played a major role in your life is a frequent cause of grief. The pain can be so intense that it cripples you and prevents you from carrying on with your daily activities for a significantly long time. The grief may be accompanied by intensified guilt because of all the things you can no longer apologize for or try to make up for.
Grief comes with the loss of someone or something that really affects your life where the loss makes a hole in your well-being or the quality of your days. Grief may also be complicated by missing alliances with the person you lost or burdens now imposed on you that you were shielded from before. In other words, grief is more than simply a feeling of sadness. It is a vacuum. It is frightening.
Mourning and Ritual
Society defends itself against grief. There are rituals that define limits to it. Mourning periods are defined by most religions. After the mourning period is over, you are expected to resume life in some form and lift yourself out of grief. The Catholic Church encourages the parents or children of the deceased to mourn for six months with a "heavy mourning period" to last 30 days. Other family members are directed to mourn for 30 days. In Islam widows mourn for four months and ten days, living a restricted life in that period. Hindus mourn for 13 days (times vary with the sect). Jews mourn for a month. Social rituals designed to comfort are defined. However, many times the social rituals miss the real mark of the pain often hitting the wrong place or defined for situations where there is no real grief. Society has a vested interest in getting people back on their feet as fast as possible so that the flow of intercourse among people is not disrupted too long.
The Private Facts of Grief
Real grief is not a social ritual. It is often not easy to force grief into religious or customary practice. It often happens for unacceptable reasons or unrecognizable reasons and sometimes grief itself is a source of family conflict. About one in five people who are suffering grief associated with mourning will develop major or clinical depression. Many times the depression occurs in people who have been depressed in the past, those who have other life stresses, those with no support system, and those who use alcohol or drugs. Major depression is a mental illness that includes distortions of reality sometimes including delusions and hallucinations. Many people who become clinically depressed can benefit from counseling or psychotherapy. The depression diagnosis is usually reserved for people who have functioned relatively well in life and show a sudden breakdown.
Depression and Complicated Grief
Depression happens when grief is complicated. It may happens when the loss is not acknowledged or is too difficult to acknowledge. It may happen when the mourner becomes preoccupied with the way the death occurred or events that were occurring just before the death. Depression may reflect continuous yearning and longing for what is missing. It may happen if so much of life's meaning was tied up in the deceased person that life feels meaningless. Such complicated mourning may occur before the death actually occurs, associated with caregiving or deep pre-death association with the deceased. Skillful psychotherapy and other treatments can be effective with depressions associated with mourning. It may be a long process of growth steps and new adjustments.
People Deal with Grief in Different Ways
- Recognize that everyone processes grief in their own personal way. For some people, the death of a loved one changes their daily life in a big way. If you were performing the role of caregiver for a sick relative, for example, their death leaves you with much time on your hands. You no longer have to perform many tasks that consumed so much time before. Now, you could make other plans for your free time, but you may not want to.
- Don't let yourself get so busy that you cannot feel. One verb commonly used in therapy is that humans must "process" feelings in their way. This means that your mind and your heart will need time to work through the thoughts and emotions related to the death. For some grief sufferers, there existed many unresolved issues with the person who died, and the death leaves them with those issues to grapple with. For other grief sufferers, there were no issues, and they were able to say goodbye and to resolve things. They didn't leave things left unsaid. Both kinds of grief sufferers still feel the loss deeply and their worldview is altered, but the former group feels more conflicted, sometimes with no way to get a response back from their lost loved one.
- Don't rush into making major changes in your life. A 35-year-old married mother of one was very much in pain as she and her husband tried marital counseling. However, after a few sessions that weren't accomplishing anything, there was a sudden tragic death of her 29-year-old brother. She went back to therapy after the funeral, so aggrieved that she didn't let her husband attend, and told the counselor she wanted to get a divorce. Her husband didn't want it, and he knew that his wife was dealing with the trauma of her brother's early death. However, the counselor reminded them how she first came to therapy seeking a divorce, and this event just made up her mind. When you experience the death of a loved one, you don't have to rush into a big decision like ending a marriage. Many of Mary's clients use therapy to work through major issues in their lives or their marriage. It's better to make major decisions once the initial stages of grief have passed. If you're certain of a decision, you can follow through with actions once you're sure it's what you want.
Mary Shull Can Help
Mary Shull is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Certified Bereavement Counselor with training in critical incident stress management for trauma, along with 30 years of experience working with sexual abuse survivors, sufferers of anxiety, and those who are grieving a loss. Please contact me to learn more about my practice.