“PROBLEMS IN GRIEVING AND RECOVERY”
Hello – I am glad you came back, and I hope you took your time reading chapter 3 in your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”?
Let us pray together:
Lord, you raise the poor from the dust and lift the needy from the ash heap. Lord, lift me up this day from my personal ash heap that I may praise You. Amen” (Psalm 113:1, 7)
Please, walk thru your memory and answer the following questions, but do not dwell so much on the actual incident but rather on their feelings at that time:
1) “Think about a time in your life when you became stuck or bogged down in some activity or task. How did you feel?”
2) “Think about a time when you either had to, or chose to, take a detour. How did you feel during the actual time of the detour?”
Occasionally, recovery from a loss is disturbed for one reason or another. Why do you think this might occur? Disrupted recovery is called unresolved grief. There are many reasons, some reasons overlap. But in each case you will find some denial (“Don’t Even kNow I Am Lying”) or repression of aspects of the loss or feelings, and an attempt to hold onto whatever was lost. As we identify these reactions, if you have ever experienced this, perhaps you want to record them in a ‘grief diary’.
- Absent grief means feelings of grief and mourning over a loss cannot be found. It’s as though the loss never occurred. There is a significant amount of denial in this response.
- Abbreviated grief is normal grief that is very brief. There are several reasons for it:
– There could be an immediate replacement of what was lost.
Outsiders will sometimes assume the replacer must not have loved the person who died if he or she can so quickly become involved in a new relationship. In actuality, often the replacer has loved very much but tries to bypass grief with replacement to avoid pain. Such replacement can mean: a person, over-work, excess hobbies.
– Possibly there wasn’t that much attachment to what was lost.
– Death of a terminally ill person where much of the bitter grieving occurs in advance of the loss or death.
- A minimizer often believes grief is something to be quickly thought thru but not felt. They seem to be conforming to society’s message to quickly ‘get over’ grief. But inside the repressed feelings of grief continue to build and fester and, with no outlet, produce emotional strain and tension. Observers of minimizers may well hear them talk about how they are back to their normal routines. The minimizer seeks to avoid pain at all costs, feels threatened by feelings of grief.
- Inhibited grief involves the repression of some of the normal grief responses. But other symptoms such as complaints may take their place. Stomach aches, loss of energy, headaches are some of the more common responses. Unfortunately, many grieving people unconsciously take on a “sick role” to receive caring responses from people around them. These persons often fear that if they express their true feelings of grief, people would abandon them. It may also be that the grieving person is able to only grieve over certain aspects of that what was lost but not others, like only positive aspects but not the negative one. We will get back to this subject later.
- Delayed grief, which could mean months or even years of delay. Perhaps the grieving person feels he/she just can’t deal with the grief at that time. Perhaps he/she believes that if you delay the expression of your grief, it will hopefully go away. Obviously, it does not. Unfortunately, even a very small future loss can be the catalyst to trigger the past grief which might then roll like an avalanche. Listen to this statement about delayed grief:
“The refusal to mourn is the refusal to say good-bye to beloved persons, places, missed opportunities, vitality, or whatever has been ‘taken away’ as religious people often view their losses. The refusal to mourn our earlier disappointments ultimately hardens us, as it did Lot’s wife (who turned into a pillar of salt when she turned back to longingly look at what she had lost. Gen. 19:26). Genuine grief is the deep sadness and weeping that expresses the acceptance of our inability to do anything about our losses. It is a prelude to letting go. It is dying that precedes resurrection. Our sadness reveals the cost of a commitment which has been shattered.”
- Chronic grief is a response where a person continues to show grief responses that would be appropriate in the early stages of grief. This can go on for years. The mourning continues with no sign of closure. It appears that the person is keeping the loss alive with their grief. This is especially prevalent in the loss of a person, when the relationship was very intense with a great deal of emotional investment. It can also happen when the loss was irreplaceable and is often seen in the death of a child. In the book, ‘Five Smooth Stones’, Eugene Peterson writes, “If this carries on too long, it will lead to a crippled adjustment to life instead of wholeness of life. “
“Weeping my tarry for the night (or a week or 6 months), but joy comes with the morning” Psalm 30:5
Here is a quote from the book “Helping People Through Grief”
by Dolores Kuenning:
––“The impact of sudden death is devastating, for it happens without warning or a chance to anticipate what lies ahead. It allows no time for goodbyes, no time to make amends or ask forgiveness for harsh words spoken in trivial quarrels, and no time to express the love one feels but doesn’t verbalize. The unfinished business of the day can never be transacted, it remains unresolved. It’s like playing a CD or the radio and in the middle of a lovely tune the power goes off. The cd or radio suddenly stops . . . It is like an unfinished song, the melody stopped in mid-phrase and longs for completion.”—-
Have any of you experienced a sudden, unanticipated loss? If yes, you know the impact.
An intense, sudden, unanticipated loss is like a crushing blow that leaves the person devastated. It is such a shock that the person is unable to grasp the totality of what has happened. Make sure you read chapter 4 of your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”.
Here are 7 special features that can complicate the grief process for survivors of a sudden death experience or any sudden loss experience.
(To name some circumstances: house fire; natural disasters; severe accident)
Sudden death/loss …
- usually leaves the survivor with a sense of unreality that may last a long time.
- fosters a stronger-than-normal sense of guilt expressed in “if only” statements.
- fosters the need to blame someone for what happened is extremely strong.
- often involves medical and legal authorities.
- often elicits a sense of helplessness on the part of the survivor.
- leaves the survivor with many regrets and a sense of unfinished business.
- fosters the need to understand why it happened. Along with this is the need to ascribe not only the cause, but the blame. Sometimes God is the only available target and it is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I hate God!”
Whenever a close loved one dies unexpectedly, the last time you were together becomes very significant. You remember the last conversation, the last touch and the surroundings. It’s as though somebody hit the “pause” button on the DVD and the movie of your life froze at this last encounter. And you tend to play it over and over and over again in your mind whether the person you lost was a family member or a close friend.
If your last memory was pleasant, it makes the grieving easier. The good memory helps to comfort you. But it does not always happen that way. Your last encounter could have been an unpleasant conflict and the relationship had not been fully restored yet. There is a feeling of it being unfinished. You wanted to straighten things out tomorrow, but tomorrow never came.
It seems too abrupt and harsh.
How do you soften your memories and images that hurt you so much?
Any suggestions you can think of?
One way of recovering is doing some editing just as though it were a movie. You can hang on to the hurting negative images or choose to go back a bit further in time (“hit rewind on your inner DVD”) and dwell on a scene which is representative of your relationship and how you feel about that person overall. Let THAT scene be your source of comfort since it more accurately represents the relationship you had.
Let’s summarize the primary “CHARACTERISTICS OF UNRESOLVED GRIEF”:
There is either:
- Absence of normal grief reaction
- A reaction that lingers
- or a distortion of a normal grief reaction
When you have one or more of these symptoms and they continue beyond 6 months or a year, you may have unresolved grief. Let’s take a closer look at unresolved grief. Some of the symptoms are:
- A pattern of depression which continues to linger and often is accompanied by guilt and lowered self-esteem.
- A history of extended or prolonged grief which reflects an already existing difficulty with grief.
- A wide variety of symptoms such as guilt, self-blame, panic attacks, feelings of choking and fears.
- Sometimes there are physical symptoms similar to those of the deceased person’s terminal illness due to over-identification with the individual.
- A restless searching for what was lost with a lot of purposeless, random behavior, and moving about.
- Recurring depression that is triggered on specific dates such as anniversaries of the loss, birthday of a deceased person, holidays, and even becoming the same age as the person who died. When these reactions are more extreme than normal responses, it can be indicative of unresolved grief.
- Feelings that the loss occurred yesterday, even though months or years have passed.
- Enshrinement or the unwillingness to remove the belongings of a deceased person after a reasonable period of time.
- Changes in personal relationships with other significant people following the death.
- Withdrawal from their normal religious activities and the avoidance of usual mourning activities which are part of the person’s culture.
- Inability to talk about the loss without breaking down, especially when it occurred over a year before.
- Extensive thinking about and noticing themes of loss in life.
- Minor losses triggering major grief reactions.
- Phobias about death or illness.
- Excluding anything or anyone who used to be associated with a significant loss or deceased person.
- A compulsion to imitate the deceased person due to over-identification with him or her.
Do you identify with any of these characteristics? How many “yes”?
You have this list in your book, chapter 4.
Why do some people move through grief so well whereas others have such struggles? There are numerous factors that predispose a person to difficulty in resolving grief over a loss. Here are 7 of them:
“REASONS FOR NOT RESOLVING GRIEF”
- One reason may be that a person is unable to handle the emotional pain of grief so he/she tends to resist the process.
- Another reason can be that the individual has an excessive need to maintain interaction with the person who is no longer there. This can be true for divorce as well as death.
- Guilt can block grief. If we begin to reflect on our relationship with the person who is gone, we may experience excessive guilt over behaviors, feelings, or even neglect which occurred, or we think occurred, in the relationship.
- Some people resist grieving because the loss reactivates unresolved losses from the past that are even more painful to handle than the present one. Thus an endless pattern of postponing grieving is set into motion.
- Overload may be another reason for unresolved grief. There are occasions in our lives when we experience a number of losses in a short period of time and it’s just too much to bear at one time. The losses are too heavy to face and handle. If a person loses several members of his or her family or even several friends at one time, not only does it produce overload, but he/she has also lost some of the people who could have given him/her support and comfort as he/she grieves.
- Some individuals have never fully and adequately developed their individual identity. They haven’t matured sufficiently and whenever they are confronted with a loss, they tend to regress.
- Still others fail to grieve because of some misbeliefs they hold onto.
– They fear losing control, and they’ve been taught that losing control isn’t proper.
– They do not want to appear weak to others and to themselves.
– Belief that their personal pain ties them closer to the person they lost.
There are losses that are neither recognized by society nor are they given any significance:
- The loss of a pet is quite underestimated, but this can be devastating to some pet owners.
- Abortion is a loss that often haunts the mother later. Who encourages and helps her as well as possibly the father or potential grandparents?
- A miscarriage is the death of a child just as much as the death of a full-term baby. But many times insufficient time and attention are given to a miscarriage situation. Often the grief stricken parents are just told to “try again” for another baby.
Some losses seem to be repulsive and basically unacceptable. Friends, relatives, and others don’t want to even acknowledge them, let alone assist in the grieving process.
Part of their struggle is, “What do I say at a time like this?”
How do YOU respond when a family member or neighbor or acquaintance . . .
. . . dies of a drug overdose?
. . . takes his or her own life in suicide?
. . . is a man convicted of murder?
. . . is a woman imprisoned for embezzling funds from her job?
. . . is a girl or boy arrested for shoplifting and the father of this youngster is the pastor of your church?
Feelings of distaste or disgust often block a person’s ability to grieve or assist others in the process.
* Have you perhaps ever wondered why people have searched for years for the MIA’s (Missing in Action) from Vietnam, or worked to have a soldier’s body returned home from a grave somewhere, or why much time is spent attempting to recover the body of a murder victim, or a body from a boating accident or a mine cave-in? One of the many reasons death needs to be confirmed is that it allows the survivors to begin the grieving process. We need closure.
Ultimately, we need to get from “WHY did this happen to me?” to “HOW can I learn to live?”
What can you do when you are stuck in your grief? It is like being stuck in a pothole on the road . . .
Perhaps the following 11 steps will help because they will give you a sense of control of the situation,
a sense of being able to do something about the problem. They are printed in your book, chapter 4.
- Try to identify what it is that doesn’t make sense to you about your loss. Keep a card with you for several days to record your thoughts as they emerge.
- Identify the emotions you feel during each day. Labeling your feelings will diminish their power over you. (Remember Garfield! ‘Label the mice in your life’!)
- State the steps or actions you are taking to help you move ahead and overcome your loss.
Identify what you have done in the past that has helped. Perhaps ask a trusted friend.
- Be sure you are sharing your loss and grief with others who can listen to you and support you during this time. Do NOT seek out ‘advice-givers’!
- It may help to find a person who has experienced a similar loss.
Attend support groups. Read books or stories about similar cases.
- Identify the positive characteristics and strengths of your life that have helped you before.
- Spend time reading the Psalms. Many of them reflect the struggle of different human losses.
- When you pray, share your confusion, feelings, and hopes with God. Be involved in the worship services of your church since worship is an important element in recovery and stabilization. “God anointed me (Jesus) to heal the heartbroken, to comfort all who mourn, and to care for the needs of all who mourn, to give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a faint spirit.” (paraphrased, Isaiah 61:1-3)
- Think about where you want to be in your life two years from now. Write out some of your dreams and goals. Just setting goals at all may encourage you to realize that you will recover.
- Become familiar with the stages of grief: Shock – Grief – Blame – Forgiveness – Saying ‘good-bye’ – Recovery and helping others. (But not necessarily in this order!) Then you will know what to expect and you will feel ‘normal’.
- Remember that understanding your grief intellectually is not sufficient. It cannot replace the emotional experience of living through this difficult time. Expect mood swings. Mood swings are normal.
Please, be sure to read chapters 4 of your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”.
Let us close with prayer, with a portion of the ‘Prayer of St. Francis’:
“Oh LORD, grant that I may never seek as much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.
LORD, make me a channel of YOUR peace. Amen.