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July 2006

GRIEVING NOTES

By Al Vigil

Everyone–each and every person, will experience grief in their lives. The irony is that the grief will take place in life because others come to the end of their life.

Sometimes grief is described as work, as a process, as a journey, —whatever description is used, every one will go through it. It is a part of life ...and it always changes things.

At times grief can be like a gentle breeze; it is hardly felt, yet it's always there making its presence known. Everything can feel calm and then you feel your blouse or your shirt, like your brain and your heart, tugged and pulled —every which way. The wind doesn't limit itself to any set direction, time, or intensity.

At times grief is like a tornado. Like a rushing wind, it stirs up things, it can push people
around like puppets. It can blow to devastating proportions and recovery is difficult and painful. It knocks down things in its way and it makes you feel unstable and unsure. That kind of wind, like very painful grief, is frightening and scary. It makes you want to look for a cellar or basement, to escape to, so as too once again feel safe, protected, and cared for —like you probably were before the death of someone you loved.

I believe that at times you have to let go and just fly with the winds, soar with the breezes,
and let yourself be carried to where the winds need to take you. It's alright to let grief move you and surround you as a wind does ...knowing that eventually winds do come to an end.
Winds do blow over leaving us "Forever Changed."

As survivors we know that life is worth living and we choose life. We hope and pray that the winds of healthy grief blow and carry you toward healthy healing.

Remember one beautiful thing about the wind ...it also brings in fresh air.


BOOK REVIEW

"SILENT GRIEF"
(Living In The Wake Of Suicide)

by Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden

A Book Review written for Sharing & Healing
By Frances P. Watson - Raleigh North Carolina

Millions of Americans have lost someone they loved to suicide and many of these survivors suffer from severe medical and psychological trauma for a number of years. Some fear that they too, might one day commit suicide. It is for these survivors that this book was written.

When he was only six years old, Christopher Lukas' mother, a manic-depressive, walked out of her psychiatrist's house, stepped into the garden, and cut her throat at the age of thirty-three. For ten years the nature of his mother's death was kept a secret from him and his brother, though all of their relatives and most of their friends knew that she had committed suicide. When Lukas was sixteen, his father told him the truth adding that his mother did so because she was sick, but he clearly did not wish to discuss the subject with his father. Twenty-nine years later, after his father's death, Lukas also lost an aging aunt and uncle, a year apart, from suicide. Finally, his closet childhood friend who had been voted 'most likely to succeed" in his high school class, turned fifty and killed himself.

As a result of these personal life experiences, and after being in and out of psychotherapy himself, Lukas finally realized that he had no choice but to further explore his feelings of depression, anxiety, anger and despondency. He learned that between 350,00 and 600,000 people become suicide survivors each year and that in addition to guilt, anger, and pain, they also experience exhaustion, migraines, colitis, alcoholism, sleep problems, anxieties, crying spells, heart troubles and fear of being alone. Finally, and tragically, as a group, these people appeared to have difficulty with lasting relationships and were more likely to commit suicide themselves than those in the general population. Yet, so little information was available to answer all the "whys" of what happens to survivors of suicide. Lukas then began interviewing people who had been left behind as well as talking to psychologists and social workers. Then, after attending a conference, billed as the first ever get-together of suicide survivors, it was clear that a book needed to be written for the benefit of this group of people.

As he dug deeper into the effects of suicide upon survivors, Lukas soon realized that he needed help from a professional such as Henry Seiden, a long-time practioner of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and together they combined their thinking and research to produce this inspiring book, SILENT GRIEF.

Reading this one book can help survivors learn how to confront, and understand and share their grief and regain control of their lives.

SILENT GRIEF "pierces with a brilliant ray of hope the dark silence that shrouds the subject of suicide-helping survivors to understand and accept the past and lighting the way to a new future."


WHO HAS THE WORST PAIN?

By Andrea Gambill, Editor, Bereavement Magazine

In the eighteen years I have been interacting with bereaved people, one of the most frequent questions I have asked is, "who has the worst pain?"

Do bereaved parents suffer more than widows and widowers? Do children whose parents die feel more agony than children who lose a sibling? Is it harder to watch a loved one suffer for a long time before death releases the victim than it is to answer the doorbell or the phone at midnight and suddenly hear the news of tragedy? Is suicide worse than homicide? Is the death of an "older" child more difficult to grieve than the death of a newborn or infant?

If there were one, clear and definitive answer to those questions, grieving could be neatly catalogued and mourners could be organized into convenient categories. Our comforters and care-givers would then be able to select from predictable menu of helps, and everyone could get "healed" more quickly and efficiently.

IF ONLY !!!

But the truth is it makes little difference how our loved ones died, at what ages, or what our relationships were named. The pain of grief is agony no matter how or when it happens.

— Long-term dying is not better or worse than sudden death –it is different!

— Mourning the death of an infant is not better or worse than mourning the death of a teenager –it is different!

- The grief of the widowed is not better or worse that the grief of bereaved parents –it is different!

— Death by homicide is not easier or harder than death by suicide –it is different.

There is no adequate preparation for the loneliness and emptiness that must be squarely faced when we finally come to the realization that we will never again in this life see the one who is so precious to us. In every case the mourning period can be just as painful and difficult for one as it is for another, but the grief needs of the bereaved can be very different.

When the relationship to a loved one was cemented with the permanent "super glue" of devotion and commitment, death causes a ripping apart that leaves the survivor with devastating and gaping wound, regardless of how the death occurred or what the relationship was named.

However, if the adhesive that formed the relationship bond was simply "pressure sensitive," the separation may involve no more than a sting of tape being quickly pulled off skin. The pain may be sharp but short-lived, regardless of the type of death or the kind of connection. It all depends on how bonded the survivor was to the deceased.

In our society, a "friendship" may not be taken as seriously as a blood relationship; and engagement may not be perceived as important as a marriage; the death of a parent may be assumed to be a more deeply felt loss than it truly was to the surviving child or children; and we must never assume that a long-term dying process has fulfilled the "grief quota" of the survivors who loved and lost!

It's not fair to assume that if mourners have some advance warning that the death is coming, their grieving time is shorter or less intense. We must be careful not to confuse the natural relief that the deceased is finally beyond the reach of suffering with the assumption that the grief of missing them will be abated.

By inadvertently giving our society the message that certain kinds of relationships or certain kinds of experiences are "worse" or "better" than others, the grief of some survivors may be in danger of being prematurely aborted or even ignored entirely. Grief is an individual experience and comforters and care-givers must be careful to support the bereaved on a very personal basis. Mourners feel the pain of grief in direct proportion to their perception of how important the loved one was in their lives, and that value is entirely subjective.

There is really only ONE criterion that establishes the quality of mourning: The intensity of grieving is directly related to the intensity of bonding.


THE FRIEND WHO CARES

"When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."
Henri J.M. Nouwen
"Out of Solitude"


"SURVIVING"

BY : Melinda Vigil-White

Survival, a term best described as " being able to live or exist longer than, or beyond life, or the existence of ...or to continue to live after or in spite of ... ."

A word in our English language that has portrayed a strong reinforcement in my life. Especially these last years when my life has been touched by the inevitable; Surviving A Loss.

I first began by learning to accept your own choice of ending your life at the age of eighteen, and the two emotional breakups of my own relationships with men that I once loved, and then learning to cope with all the physical and emotional aspects of becoming a woman. They all portrayed a deep sense of loss in my life. Each very different, but in itself a deep loss. Then after a period of adjustment I finally found the strength and support from family and friends, and the feeling of peace within myself that I have been longing for ever since you died. It's taken sometime in finding out just who really is and what was most important in my life. Instead of acknowledging the emptiness and loss that was felt when you died, I began trying to avoid the loss of you by needing other people or finding superficial things to bring me feelings of happiness and fulfillment within myself once again. I have since realized that I needed to achieve within myself in learning how to come to terms with my own feelings of grief from your death before I could go on with my life. I needed to be able to value the happiness and strength within myself that I had avoided so long in my life. It was then when I honestly became aware of wanting and feeling the need to be a Survivor...

During this time, I began to understand that in coping with any death, especially one of suicide, is extremely tragic. The emotions that are felt with its survivors are felt with such intensity because of the questions and feelings of guilt left behind by the one individual who chose to end their own life without ever really acknowledging or realizing that "suicide is the permanent means of a solution to a temporary problem."

It seems like only yesterday when we were sharing an apartment together and you spoke of your future plans and of discovering all the new aspects of life at the age of eighteen.

It was a new and emotional beginning in discovering many new feelings within yourself that were felt for the very first time. It was during this period in your life when you "fell in love" with a young boy. A love that you valued more than your own life. Unwillingly, never wanting or able to accept his "change of heart," became the beginning of your own avoidance towards any feelings, or acceptance of feeling the loss in your own life. You tried so hard to remain strong and in control of your feelings and emotions and eventually your fear and painful loss without him became intensely over-whelming and out of control. That fear and loss led to your own destructive sense of reality, which became shadowed by the darkness of your soul, leaving out any existence of light in your life to follow, that I believed would have given you the hope and strength that you needed.

I've finally came to the realization within myself, Mia, in believing that you were only thinking of ending your intense pain the night that you took your life. I really believe that if you had ever thought about what we would feel and go through as your family, you would be here today.

I don't think you ever realized, or even thought, about how painful it would be for me, when you were gone. You were always such a sensitive and loving individual and I know that you never meant to hurt us or to make us feel any pain, only in ending yours, the only way you knew how.

After you were gone, I felt so incredibly empty inside. No "goodbye" or "I love you". Only the sense of loss and realization looking at the fifth empty chair at the dinner table, or seeing a fifth person missing from the new family portrait. You will be forever missed. We acknowledge the pain we all feel for the loss of you and strive to discover the means to survive within a family.

Mia, I will always remember you saying, to Marlo and I, how you were the "rose between two thorns," and oh how we wished we could have promised you a rose garden. We just couldn't promise it would be without thorns.

It's taken all of us a lot of time to get to where we are today. With love and support from family and friends, I have gained the strength to go on.. It hasn't been easy on any of us and we all miss you deeply, but life goes on, and so must we. You'll never be forgotten but will only continue to remain in our hearts and minds forever. As your family, we've chosen in our special way to carry on with strength, love, and support for others who may share the same tragedy. Being able to give others hope and encouragement in surviving such a loss, gives us a sense of strength in achieving our own healing process.

I believe everyone, at one time or another, will experience a loss in life and to know that loss is a part of life, of being alive, and of being human ...will then be the discovery in the meaning to Survive.


GOOD GRIEF...a JOURNEY?
By the Sharing & Healing Editors

"Grief is About– "Length of the Grief Process–
A Journey into the Unknown" A Journey Without a Timetable"

No human being would willingly go on a journey in which the destination and time of arrival were unknown. Grief is such a journey. A journey that does not confine itself to a time, a place, or a thing like a ship in a bottle. No one can predict when you will again be able to engage fully with life again or what shape your life will take when you do. The only sure thing about grief is that it is brought about by the loss of someone or something that you loved and cared for–and that it is painful and traumatic.

Because our inner vision is usually quite blurred when we are filled with painful emotions, we can easily miss the good things that are part of each day in the present time. There will always be certainties about grief, one is that those who lose someone or something that was precious to them...will grieve.

Losses, necessary and un-necessary, require grief work and usually grief is unique to each and every person...and no-one can do the work for you. You can't hire someone to go through it for you, you can't delegate it to someone else, you can't wish it away and prayer may sustain you, but even that doesn't wash the pain completely away. It is your journey and no one else can take it for you. The best comfort for the bereaved, is that if we are loved, we don't have to travel alone.

The uncertainty of grief is difficult to bear. For this reason, many bereaved people and their friends try to develop a timetable and set expectations for the grieving process. Of course books that describe typical stages of grief are illustrated to support these expectations and timetables. The biggest problem with grief is that it gets in our planned way of life and it is certainly not a journey that we ever hoped to take.

The most common timetables are those that try to rush the grieving process. Three weeks, three months, or three years may pass, and your friends think you should feel better. The bereaved should keep in mind that the only agreement among grief-counselors is that those in grief, experience severe grief pain for eight to twelve months after the death. It is not uncommon for people to find that it may take eighteen to twenty-four months just to regain equilibrium. Healing to a point where they feel hope and appetite for life may take longer.

Less common but equally harmful are timetables which try to slow down the grieving process. A bereaved person may find energy to enjoy life before it seems fitting. Friends and other family members may suspect disloyalty to the one who died, simply because their own grief timetables have not been met.

It is helpful to remember that the pain of grief cannot be measured, regardless of its duration. People live their loyalties to their loved ones in many different ways. Respecting pain when you feel it and getting on with your own life when you can are ways of demonstrating loyalty to your loved one.

Where will you be? A journey with Destination Unknown?

We tend to hold onto the past, particularly when we have suffered a painful loss. The truth is that we usually imagine the future in terms of what we have known of past happiness.

During the journey of grief we are forever changed. After a loss, you are not the same. Traveling through grief is walking through an unknown and unique path of your own pain and healing, but it can lead to a new sense of yourself and new ways of shaping your life.

The search for recovery from deep loss can lead to the discovery of previously unknown ability, talent, strength, and courage. With this discovery may come new power to create value in your life–even in the face of death and loss.

Guidelines and Directions–
A Journey Without Sign -Posts

One of the problems about traveling through grief is that the journey is littered with bad information, misunderstandings, and myths. Bad information, like bad directions on any map, impede travel. If the information you receive about grief is faulty or inaccurate, then you risk developing unrealistic expectations about yourself in grief. Since these expectations then become the standards against which you evaluate yourself, it is important that they are appropriate and realistic–if they are not you will add to your guilt and failure. Grief is a complex experience and it is different for each individual.

One of the difficulties with grief is that myths and misunderstandings create dangerous and unhealthy work with this very natural response to loss. Here is a list of myths that we have actually heard and expounded as truths. They are harmful and psychologically damaging to anyone trying to understand how to cope with the loss of their loved one to death.


MYTHS ABOUT GRIEF

All losses are the same.
If someone has lost a spouse, they should know what it is like to, lose a child.

If you lost a spouse, you should grieve like others who have lost a spouse.

It takes two month to get over it.

The intensity and length of your grief are testimony to your love for the deceased.

All people grieve in the same way.

Grief pain declines in a steady fashion.

Once grief is resolved, it never comes up again.

Family members will be there to help you grieve.

There is something wrong if you not always feel close to your other family members, since you should always be glad that they are still alive.

Children grieve like adults.

Children need to be protected from grief and death.

Feeling sorry for yourself should not be allowed.

There is something wrong with you if you believe that part of you has died with your loved one.

You should not think about your loved one during the holidays.

Expressing intense feelings is the same as losing control.

You shouldn't be angry with the deceased loved one.

Only sick individuals have physical problems. Grief will effect you psychologically, but in no other way.

Because you feel crazy, you are going crazy.

You should feel only sadness that your loved one has died.

Infant death isn't as difficult to resolve because you didn't know the child as well.

Rituals and funerals are unimportant in helping us to deal with life and death.

Being upset and grieving means that you do not believe in God or trust your religion.

Eventually you and your family will be the same after that death as before your loved one died.

You will have no relationship with your loved one after the death.

When in doubt about what to say to a bereaved person, offer a cliche.

Losing someone to sudden death is worse than losing someone to anticipated death.

There will be less effect on you if your parent dies when you yourself are an adult rather than a child.

Parents usually divorce after the death of a child.

Social support is not important during your time of grief.

Each of the above statements is a myth, and frequently a dangerous myth, because if you believe that they are true you will expect yourself to act and feel accordingly. Putting extra stress on yourself because of unreal expectations places unneeded burdens on an already difficult time.

The most effective way to cope with grief is to understand that the feelings of guilt, resentment, desertion, depression, anger and fear are shared by all who grieve. One of the most contradictory impulses is for the survivor to want to go back to more peaceful times before the death, and on the other hand want to move forward to new and peaceful times.

Grief pain really becomes healthy and resolved when it gradually diminishes in intensity, and when the bereaved accepts the absoluteness of this final separation and commits themselves to the mainstream of life, The most important message in all of the writings of bereavement is that, for the mourners who see no future, no promise, no new life; there is hope; Spring does come again and life does renew itself.

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