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Grief and Loss: The Topic of Death is Too Often Ignored

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Bereavement » Featured Article

By Kim Winbery, MA, LPC, LCPC, NCC

Kim Winbery, MA, LPC, LCPC, NCC

Losing someone is one of the most devastating experiences a person can go through. It does not typically get any easier after consecutive losses, and there is no way to be perfectly prepared for it even when notice is given prior to death. Just as each person leaves this world in a different way, each of you will experience each loss in your own unique way. Death is such an apparent and inevitable part of life. One way that I look at loss is by remembering that I only get to "borrow" everything and everyone. That includes my life and those around me. I try to spend each day appreciating the time I get to borrow. Giving back what we have borrowed, loved, and cherished to the unrelenting reality of death is one of the most challenging tasks in life. I empathize with all of you who have lost people in your lives and encourage you to seek solace in others during those difficult times. It is not necessary to go that path alone.

So, what about the healing process? In my professional and personal opinion, it is essential to healing to allow yourself to go through the grieving process at your own pace, on your own terms, and with emotional support in order to complete the process. The final stage of grief is acceptance, but acceptance does not mean being okay with the loss. You do not ever have to be okay with the fact that someone you loved has died. Acceptance means being able to move forward and function again at your previous level or close enough. It is okay to move forward with that person in your heart always, and there are various ways to continue to honor the lives of those we have lost.

Cultural Mores and Norms ... Something unusual exists in cultural norms related to the immediate loss ... I don't know anyone who has ever found comfort in being told, immediately after their loss, that their loved one was "in a better place now." That is typically not comforting to the person who has just lost someone, yet it is such a common (and of course a well-meaning) response. It is the kind of comment that, no matter how well-intentioned, fails to lessen the pain of bereavement. How about saying to the person who has just lost someone "what can I do for you to help you through this time?" That does not necessarily lessen the pain either, but instead of trying to "cheer up" the person attempting to grieve, it opens the door to an expanded external support system. With such an external care-team, the person will more healthfully reach their transcendence towards healing.

As Time Passes ...

I believe that it is truly important to remember that as time passes people forget to ask "how are you doing?" Perhaps the latter is due to assumptions that "enough" time has passed. Social norms also seem to relay the message that it would bring up hard times to inquire in such a way and hence, just make things worse. Well, perhaps for some it would. However, to err on the side of the possibility that it could help seems to be a safer bet, and if you are wrong, it is unlikely that you would do irreparable damage by asking someone how they are doing. In contrast, for many, it is exactly what they need --that open doorway to discussion of where they are at during each year's constant reminders, anniversaries, and holidays without their loved ones.

That being said, here's a scenario to exemplify checking in with the bereaved.  Let's say a year or so has passed, and your friend brings up something such as "Johnny used to like this song." What would happen if you asked "How are you doing with that, by the way?" or "How are you holding up?" After all, they opened the door ... it is possible that they just might want you to walk in. Additionally, if they say "fine" and change the subject, at least they know that you'll ask that again, if they need you to, and they have learned that when they want you to ask that again, they will bring that person up again. For instance, a month later they may say "I used to come here with my wife." At that time you may ask how they are, and they may share quite a bit. You have learned how to create safety in your relationship to assist them in their grieving process, now and in the future as well. Likewise, they have learned from you how to safely elicit that question from you, allowing them that time to share.

In the meantime, remember that you do not have to and you cannot "fix" or "change" what has happened when someone has lost someone, but your ability to be "present" for them is important for their positive emotional healing. Also, being there for someone during their time of immediate need and maintaining a positive emotional support person for them without an expiration date is also beneficial for your own personal growth and emotional and moral development. To those of you who have already been aware of and have practiced these things and to those of you who now plan to, many many blessings to you.

About the Author...

Kim Winbery, LPC has a Master of Arts in Human Services in Counseling, 3 active LPCs (Licensed Professional Counselor) licenses, and an LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor) license. She has been in the field for over 14 years and is Nationally Certified with the NBCC. She is an active member of various Mental Health organizations and advocacy groups.

Last Update: 11/14/2016

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