Yesterday, I learned of the death of a favorite uncle. This column is for his surviving wife, Mary.
There is no known medication for grieving. Healing from grief requires time. It requires understanding. You need to allow for emotional pain. You need long-term supportive connection with the living. You need to talk about the dead. You need to strengthen your positive memories.
James Fogarty, Ph.D., wrote a book, When Grief Becomes Complicated. In it he lists some of the "risk factors" associated with "complicated grief." There is no other kind! The recent death of a loved one contains all the normal risk factors for those close to the deceased. Perhaps you will recognize some of these, as well.
Sudden, unexpected death which is traumatic or violent.
Dependency upon the deceased.
Persistent anger with the deceased.
Experience of previous or multiple losses.
Previous mental/emotional health difficulties.
A history of family dysfunction.
Isolation of the person or family.
Certainly, loved ones can expect to experience complicated grief. Most of us are aware of denial, anger, depression, desire to blame and that awful ache/void in our hearts. These are all normal, painful processes through which each individual must move at their own individual pace. Complicated grief occurs when people are overwhelmed and begin to engage in maladaptive behavior or stay in the state of intense grief without progressing through the mourning process toward completion, and moving ahead with their own lives.
And what are some of the signs or symptoms of such complicated grief? Fogarty describes some as:
Radical and sudden changes in lifestyle.
Rejection of friends and family.
Extreme guilt and depression.
Self-destructive impulses to "join the deceased."
Experiencing physical symptoms the deceased had, prior to death.
Inability to speak of the deceased without experiencing a new grief reaction equally intense to the first one.
Development of a repeated theme of "loss" in one’s life.
Minor events triggering major, intense grief reactions.
Here are some suggestions for healthy healing from complicated grief:
Allow everyone in the family to participate openly in the grief process.
Allow your feelings to flow out in harmless release – usually this is crying.
Talk with one another.
Talk about your experience.
Talk about your memories.
Talk about the deceased.
Talk about your wants, needs and desires.
Talk about your future.
Acknowledge all your feelings, including possible relief, anger, revenge or fear.
Forgive the deceased for any hurt and all their mistakes…this is for your sake!
Recognize your own growth as you move through the grieving process.
Engage in traditional and enjoyable rituals you used to do with the decease.
Honor the memory of the deceased by supporting what they supported.
Honor the memory of the deceased by doing for yourself what s/he would want for you.
Write a journal of positive memories to comfort you later.
Seek new perspective on your own life and the relationships you have with others.
As with all experiences, live in the present moment by letting go of the past.
Grief is always hard to experience. Perhaps the above will make it a little easier.