Grief

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.”


E.A. Bucchianeri,

 

 

As you'll find elsewhere on this site, my younger sister’s death in 2015

affected me profoundly; I was with her when she was given a cancer

diagnosis, and cared for her in many ways right to the end and in prayer

for her, in her life beyond.

 

Alongside her dying process, my own health had become worse – diabetes

side effects, a diagnosis of atherosclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, sepsis,

gallbladder issues and on and on. My mental state became hugely  way off to

how I am normally, I knew my behaviour was angry and irritable

but I seemed powerless to stop it. The more powerless I felt, the

more powerless I became; on and on in a vicious cycle.

 

I sought medical help and was told that perhaps I had a personality disorder.

Doctors, it seemed, were incapable of engaging in the language of emotions.

If I mentioned my sister and all my own health issues, I’d usually get an

“OK” and then down to business. After all, a doctor has only about ten

minutes per consultation and you can't spend it blubbing.

 

I felt hugely blamed for being mentally ill, almost as if I were doing something

wrong, I was thinking wrongly, as if I were behaving irrationally on purpose.

No medical person asked about my wellbeing, how I was coping at home

(despite trying to tell them), about my own domestic circumstances, about

my cares and worries, about my own fear not so much of dying but how I

might die and after a spell in hospital I was emphatic- I did not want to die

in hospital. Of course, on the day, I may have little choice. Who has any control?

 

I felt treated with undue attention and haste, and a rush to prescribe medication,

which I refused, only to be told by one doctor, “I am writing on your notes that

you are refusing treatment.”

 

I asked, “Could you add a note as to why?”

 

“No!” Again, the energy coming back at me was, “You are trouble.”

 

I asked to see a hospital chaplain as I was having a bit of a spiritual crisis; death

can do that to you, but when your job is as a minister, there are added

complications. How can you function if what you believe in has suddenly

been shaken to its core. And all the chaplain could say, in a counselling session,

was, “You know it gets better.”

 

A so-called mental health "expert" was only interested in whether or not I was

suicidal – she was incapable of understanding the emotions I was trying to

explain and in some cases, eg distress, clearly exhibiting.

 

In summary, each contact with a medical person simply made me resolve to

have as little to do with them as possible and that is still my approach; I do as

much as I can to be my own best physician.

 

Emotional Symptoms of Grieving

 

Grief can arise not just from the death of a close relative or friend, but from redundancy, being told you have a terminal illness, a relationship breakup etc. A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the following emotional symptoms. These are usually associated prolonged, or complicated, grief and may include:

 

Anger

Bitterness

Demanding

Detachment

Exhaustion - mental

Increased irritability

Joylessness - inability to show or experience joy

Numbness emotionally

Preoccupation with loss

Reactionary

 

While these and other emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

 

Physical Symptoms of Grieving

 

But grief is not entirely emotional. There are very real physical effects that grief can have on the body some of which include:-

 

Digestive problems

Exhaustion - physical

Fatigue

Headaches

Chest pain

Muscle pain

 

And meantime, you are experiencing stress and stress (see link) really takes its toll in many ways.

 

WARNING 

IF THIS DESCRIBES YOU, GET HELP

 

HIGH ANXIETY—From experience and only now looking bacl, intense grief can bring on some really disturbing sensations, which then determine your behaviour. If you are irritable, you will easily snap or demand. If you are exhausted you are likely to be unappreciative, disinterested, just don’t care. Yet medical people expect you to function as if things were “normal!” What is presently normal and it’s common are these distressing and perhaps unfamiliar feelings and thoughts. And so, if you feel just too scared, depressed, anxious, or stressed out by what you are feeling, or are having serious anxiety/panic attacks, consult with your doctor, see a counsellor privately if you have to so, or find out if there I a local mental health charity who can offer support. Just a few visits with an understanding mental health professional might be just the ticket to calm you down and get you back on track. Perhaps even  a talk with a Samaritan or if you are elderly, perhaps Age UK.

Whatever you're going through, call The Samaritans free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

 

SUICIDAL IDEATION—When I saw the mental health expert who kept demanding that I be clear that I wold not commit suicide, I simply cold not get her to understand that suicide was not on my agenda and the fact that I felt at times like I just didn’t want to be here any more did not mean I was interested in suicide. I don’t know t how many medical professionals I had to say that and no one understood. So, if you are in grief, especially the early stages, you may feel sometimes like you too don't want to go on, or "wish you were dead". It is perfectly normal in a serious grief to have fleeting thoughts of not wanting to be here, of wondering what it would be like to contemplate suicide, down to actually killing yourself. The key here is that these thoughts are usually brief in duration and they go away. It's only if you start being obsessed with such thoughts and formulate real plans of how you would carry it out that you need to seek immediate professional help. Tell someone and insist you get help!

 

DEPRESSION -- Many normal grief behaviours may mimic or look like clinical depression. And grief may lead to or aggravate a pre-existing depression. There is a fundamental difference, though, between grief and depression.

 

Depression: is a clinical disorder, sometimes a physiological chemical imbalance in the brain, or it may be caused by inflammation and a disorder in the gut microbiome. It can be caused by life experiences. Many times life just becomes too hard with all its complications and hardships. It is often treated with medication, and sometimes psychotherapy or other talk therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is needed.

 

Grief: is not a disease or mental disorder. It is a normal emotional response to a significant loss. Sadness is expected. So too denial, and anger, acceptance – a moving through and moving on. Sometimes we get stuck. But there is no clinical treatment. It must run its course.  That doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing. We each have different ways of managing grief and seeking support is not a sign of weakness.

 

Grieving happens in stages which were well described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a renowned expert in grief counselling. 

 

The five stages are –denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; these describe the process of psychologically responding to the prospect and reality of any catastrophic loss. The stages are simply and compassionately described by David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss       

 

 

Denial can be said to be a defense against suffering and grieving. Denial is the first of the five stages of grief. It helps us to survive the loss. The world becomes meaningless and overwhelming and life makes no sense. We are in shock and denial, we are numb, and wonder can we go on, how we can go on, if we can go on, and why we should go on. We just don’t want to admit or accept what has happened, the loss that has occurred. The reality will be too painful, and you just can’t face it. We disengage, avoid the news, perhaps even hold back from friend and they from us if they are unsure how to deal with us.

 

 

Anger is the next stage and can easily become a habitual defense against feeling loss, sadness, and fear. There are very good reasons to be angry. Why did “it” happen, Why did she die on me. Why this, why now? And where was God when I needed him most. Anger is natural. And although we can learn to express it appropriately, that may take some time, time during which our anger has burst forth and created mayhem. Anger is a cry for help, a last ditch effort to say “I’m sinking” but society seldom sees it that way and in my own case I found every official I had to deal with just didn’t want to know, could not handle even the tiniest raising of a voice, Professionals – telling someone to not get angry or else is not the way to deal with someone who is genuinely angry. Anger, consciously channelled, can become the energy to change what needs to be changed. But healthy anger rises and falls, rather than becoming a chronic state, and it stays in touch with grief. So you may go through an intense angry period at the time, have it rise and fall, ultimately the periods between the episodes may lengthen and the intensity of them gradually less and less ferocious. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless.

 

The third stage is bargaining, where you begin to bring back control into your life, but not necessarily in a healthy way. This is your attempt to regain lost equanimity, perhaps by imagining alternative scenarios that mitigate the sense of loss. You self berate with, “If only I had …” and “What if ….” she had gone to the doctor’s earlier, they had found the tumour earlier, they had found a cure by now. Whereas true equanimity is based on opening up to all of reality, including life darkness and depths, bargaining simply seeks to keep the pains at bay. It is a more sophisticated form of denial. And where you can become stuck. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. But it’s worth remembering, God doesn’t do deals! God has already forgiven all that needs to be forgiven.

 

Important -  People often imagine the stages as lasting for only a few weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours and if we simply deny and repress the feelings, and not deal with them, they will remain stuck in the body until we do. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear, logical, neat and tidy fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one sometimes taking time, sometimes we flip backwards and forwards in a nano second. But if you can recognise the stage you are in, you can give yourself different choices, “Ah, I am denying the pain, What if I were to sit with and accept the pain and what it is trying to teach me?”

 

The fourth stage is depression. When it is clear that heartbreaking loss cannot be avoided, you can at least feel your world is (temporarily) shattered. Your feelings and thought are now very much in present time. But trying to rebuild seems impossible. Humpty Dumpty may never be put back again. We ruminate on the fear of losing something we have always depended upon and taken for granted–such as the fantastic relationship we had with someone. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined possible. We are now faced with staying intelligently related to the realities of our lives as they are now and we are nudged to pass through all the harrowing stages of grief into acceptance. Remember, you can stay stuck in depression to, and get trapped in this cycle, repeating previous stages. But remember what was said a few paragraphs ago, depression is not a sign of mental illness. You are not ill. What you are experiencing is natural.

 

The fifth and final stage is genuine acceptance for acceptance is not about feeling or being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened.   It is about recognising the new reality as the new reality. This means accepting responsibility and exercising a capacity to act on life and ways forward. We find a way to say “yes” to life, even in a world that includes horrific losses. We choose to come out of hiding and genuinely connect and engage with life the world, with others and that means accepting the yuck and muck of life, of recognising tha all our connections will not go swimmingly and that they may be with people we may not like and in situations we would prefer to avoid. We know we have arrived in acceptance when we are in motion, doing what we can to make a positive difference, living and dealing with life in calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation: We find deep equanimity.

 

Links

 

Books

 

On Grief and Grieving                                                                           Before I Go 

                                                                                                                       Creating an end of life plan

Possible losses that may cause grief include the following:

 

Abandonment

Death of a loved one

Delivering a child with a birth defect

Disability from an illness or severe accident

Discovering that your child or teen has a learning disability, behavior problem, or is abusing drugs or alcohol

Divorce, or ending of a relationship

Erectile dysfunction

Finances

Job loss

Loss of independence

Loss of libido

Miscarriage

Onset of a chronic or terminal disease

Rejection

Surviving an act of violence or natural disaster

 

Grief may also be caused by losses that are associated with positive life changes or life transitions, such as the following:

 

Aging (loss of physical strength and mobility)

Beginning college or University (loss of familiar surroundings)

Birth of a child (loss of independence + giving up work)

Marriage (loss of independent decision making)

Promotion at work

Retirement (loss of work-related identity or source of reliable income)

End of Life.jpg

© 2017,2018,2019  by Andrew Hunter

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