Saturday, July 5, 2008

Grief Experienced Dissolves

Tonight's post will be a little different in that it is geared both towards the bereaved and people who wish to help the bereaved. One of the most popular articles on this blog is How To Help A New Widow Or Widower, so I'd like to expand on that article a bit with some help from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I find that Sogyal Rinpoche has some very compassionate things to say to widows and widowers, and I feel it is important to share bereavement tips from an Eastern tradition. So, without further ado:

[from pages 311-312]:

A person who is going through bereavement for the first time may simply be shattered by the array of disturbing feelings, of intense sadness, anger, denial, withdrawal, and guilt that they suddenly find are playing havoc inside them. Helping those who have just gone through the loss of someone close to them will call for all your patience and sensitivity. You will need to spend time with them and to let them talk, to listen silently without judgment as they recall their most private memories, or go over again and again the details of the death. Above all, you will need simply to be there with them as they experience what is probably the fiercest sadness and pain of their entire lives. Make sure you make yourself available to them at all times, even when they don't seem to need it. Carol, a widow, was interviewed for a video series on death one year after her husband had died. "When you look back on the last year," she was asked, "who would you say had helped you the most?" She said: "The people who kept calling and coming by, even though I said 'no.'"

People who are grieving go through a kind of death. Just like a person who is actually dying, they need to know that the disturbing emotions they are feeling are natural. They need to know too that the process of mourning is a long and often tortuous one, where grief returns again and again in cycles. Their shock and numbness and disbelief will fade, and will be replaced by a deep and at times desperate awareness of the immensity of their loss, which itself will settle eventually into a state of recovery and balance. Tell them that this is a pattern that will repeat itself over and over again, month after month, and that all their unbearable feelings and fears, of being unable to function as a human being any more, are normal. Tell them that although it may take one year or two, their grief will definitely reach an end and be transformed into acceptance.

As Judy Tatelbaum says:

Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through and complete grief means to face our feelings openly and honestly, to express and release our feelings fully and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes for the wound to heal. We fear that once acknowledged grief will bowl us over. The truth is that grief experienced does dissolve. Grief unexpressed is grief that lasts indefinitely.

But so often, tragically, friends and family of the bereaved person expect them to be "back to normal" after a few months. This only intensifies their bewilderment and isolation as their grief continues, and sometimes even deepens.

In my next post, I'll share some of Sogyal's advice for people who have experienced sudden death.

I'll just reiterate how important it is to find a local bereavement support group and attend regularly. Such a group is probably your best bet for finding people who will listen "silently without judgment" as you go over your memories and details of the death.


Michal said...

I lost my fiancé October 14 of this year.
I blame myself for his death. Thing is we are both in recovery and he went out used and drank. He called me begging me to come get him (I never answered the phone or heard the message until after we buried him). I was just so angry and punishing him for using. 20 mins after he left me a message he was hit by a car and was brain dead. It was his 50th birthday and he had just proposed 10 days earlier. I’m so sad and sick every day bc if I would have answered his call and gone to pick him up he would not have been walking home and hit by the car. I am struggling with forgiving myself. I don’t have a lot of support bc as someone said it was just my fiancĂ© and he can be replaced. This came from someone that had lost their child and I see her point but it still is extremely painful and I miss him so much. I can’t forgive myself and I don’t know what to do.

Vic said...

Hi Michal, I'm very sorry for your loss. What terrible circumstances!

Yes, people say stupid things. I made very good use of a short phrase from Ann Landers: "I'm sure you mean well."

It is pretty easy to fall in the "if I had just done x he would be alive today." Truth is, we're not omniscient, and you could have done a thousand things and he might still have died. Please be gentle on yourself. Forgiveness will come.

Are you able to attend a grief recovery meetup in your area? I was really helped by my local one. Don't try and go through this alone.

Take care, Vic