A Guide To Grief

A Guide To Grief

David Kessler (Director of Palliative Care, Citrus Valley Health Partners and Hospice) gives expert video advice on: What is the difference between 'grief' and 'mourning'?; Why is grieving so painful?; Is it normal to feel like I am losing my mind while grieving? and more...

What is 'grief' or 'bereavement'?

Grief and bereavement is a reflection of a connection that has been lost. Grief is that emptiness that we feel, the sadness that we may experience when someone we love has died. That can be a pet, that can be a loved one, it can be a relationship ending, it can even be a job change. Bereavement is really that time that we experience after the loss.

What is the difference between 'grief' and 'mourning'?

The difference between grief and mourning is that grief is the internal feelings we have whereas mourning is the external things we do around the loss. Grief is the sadness, the emptiness, and all those feelings that we may feel inside. Sometimes other people don't even see those feelings so we may hide those feelings. Mourning is the external things we do - the funeral, the lighting of a candle, the outward crying that people can visually see us do.

Does everyone grieve in the same way?

Everyone grieves very differently. I think it's a real mistake to believe that we all grieve exactly the same way at exactly the same time. Grief is as individualised as our fingerprints. Our grief is very unique and it's not going to be like anyone else's, even if the circumstances may be the same. Even if two people have lost loved ones in the same incident, they will have different types of grief so we can never compare one person's grief to another

Why is grieving so painful?

Grieving is painful because it affects us emotionally, spiritually and physically. It's one of the hardest things that we will go through in our life. It's a train that we're not used to travelling. The feelings of sadness and emptiness are sometimes overwhelming in their nature. When we're going through grief, it's important to remember that your grief reflects the love that was shared with another. That amount of grief you're feeling and that amount of pain you're feeling shows how much you loved, and it's very important not to compare one grief to another. Many times, people will say, "I'm shocked at how much I'm grieving over the loss of this person, because when that person died, a different person in my life, it wasn't that bad." But all grief's, even to the same person, are very different because the love is very different. No better, no worse, just very different.

Is it normal to feel like I am losing my mind while grieving?

It's very normal after a loss when you are grieving to feel like you are losing your mind. The rug has been pulled out from under you. The earth has shifted in a way that you feel like you've lost your balance completely and possibly forever. Those are normal feelings that everyone has, and it's to be expected. In fact, it would be the opposite if someone you deeply loved died and you didn't feel like your world was shattered. We would wonder why you aren't having these feelings. As uncomfortable and out-of-control as you may feel, just know that that is what happens after a loss.

How long will it take to stop grieving and feel normal?

If you're wondering how long it will take to stop grieving and feel normal again, the reality is that grieving is a process that we continue on through our life. We're not going to get over our loved one or recover from the grief. Instead, we're going to tuck that person in our heart and we're going to grieve little by little for them throughout the years, and of course intensely in the first year or two. Some people often say that as time goes on it still hurts, but it just hurts less often. When we look at grief we think about that idea of returning to normal. You're not going to return to the normal that you were at with your loved one. You're going to find a new normal. It's going to be a normal without them, but they'll still remain with you in so many ways that you will still feel their presence even though physically they will be gone.

Should I call on the support of others or handle my grief alone?

It's not unusual to wonder, "Should I try to handle my grief myself or should I call friends?". In life we call our friends about so many issues. We call them about our love life, we call them about our jobs. This is a time to really reach out to your friends and your loved ones and to tell them, "I'm really having a tough time with this loss". Sometimes family members, friends even after a while, may get tired of hearing about your loss. Sometimes it makes them uncomfortable. That's why for some people we suggest bereavement groups because there they really understand that you do need to talk about this over and over again. If you feel like you have to repeat the story many times and want to tell people about what happened, that's one of the ways grief works, by telling the story.

Is it better to take time off or work through my grief?

Grief is very individual. For some people taking time off is the rest they need, and it's the time they need to process everything that's happened. Other people want, and need, to go right back to work and sometimes we judge them as they're not grieving, they're grieving wrong, but you never know, they may go to work and come home every night and cry. And, there are people who want to go back to work because the emptiness of the whole day would really be too much for them to handle. So sometimes going back to work is a way we pace our feelings, and for others staying home from work could be a way we process our feelings. It's very individual. Do what feels right for you.

Is there a 'right' or 'wrong' way of coping with grief?

There is no 'right' way to grieve, there's only your way to grieve and certainly that's different for everyone. Now obviously, like anything else, there's behaviours that can occur in grief that if they do, you should seek help. If you feel like addictive behaviour is going on, you're acting out in any way, or you're having thoughts of hurting yourself or hurting others, of course seek professional advice.

What do 'intensity' and 'duration' have to do with grief?

Intensity and duration are key factors when dealing with your grief. For instance, if you have sadness, of course that's unexpected. It may be sadness that you can't go on, which is very expected. You may have anger that your loved one died, which is very normal. You may have feelings like, "I don't even want to live anymore, I just want to give this up and join my loved one in death". Once again, that is normal. People sometimes even have physical manifestations. They may have the same pain that their loved one had. Obviously, get everything checked up by a doctor if you feel like anything is physically going wrong. However, when we look at these things that people feel, we ask what the intensity is and what the duration is. If you just feel something for a moment and it is a pleading thought, that's fine. That happens in grief. If there is an intensity that you cannot handle, that's something you should seek help for. Think about intensity and duration. We also often think about loved one's objects, let's say perhaps you've lost a child, which is unbelievably gut wretching and difficult, and you have their room intact for a while. Look again at intensity and duration. A week to have your child's room intact is normal - a month is very normal. If it's five years or ten years, there may be something deeper to be handled. Think about the intensity and duration of your feelings and the circumstances that you are encountering.

What is 'bereavement counseling'?

Bereavement counselling is counselling that you would receive after a loss. It can be from a therapist in your area, it could be from your pastor at your church, it could be from your rabbi, it could be from a number of people who are familiar with what we deal with in grief after loss. They're there to really help and talk you through this period of time.

Can I see an individual counselor for bereavement?

You can see an individual counsellor for bereavement counselling. However, most times you just need to know that there will be a fee involved and most individual counsellors deal with loss as a part of life, but it's important when you talk to a counsellor to really ask them, does the population that they serve often have grief issues because you just want to make sure that it's a counsellor who is familiar with the feelings of loss that you may be dealing with.

What is the difference between 'private' and 'group' bereavement counseling?

When we look at the differences between individual counselling, private counselling and bereavement counselling. In individual counselling, it is just you with the counsellor. And there are people who are more private, who feel more comfortable with that setting. And in terms of bereavement counselling, when you go into a group setting, other people like the idea that they feel less alone because in a bereavement group you are sitting with other people who have also lost a loved one. So for some people the group setting feels just right. For others, they want the intimacy of just one-on-one with a counsellor.

Where can I find group bereavement counseling?

You can find bereavement groups at your local hospice, or your local hospital. There's also web sites you can go to, and you can certainly go to many search engines and just put in 'bereavement group or grief' and you will find many places that offer it. You may also go to www.griefandgrieving.com where you can put in your zip code and it will help you locate a grief centre near you.