Grief: A Universal Experience
Grief: A Universal Experience
By: Yvette Smothers
NAMI Louisiana Volunteer
There is no joy in grief. This poem was written by George Santayana.
II. With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young heart’s ease,
And the dear honor of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be-
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.
I consulted a well-respected therapist, Mike Anders, at Ochsner Health Center about grief. What follows is his response.
Grief is a normal experience in response to loss of someone or something meaningful to a person. Grief that is deep and lingering may lead to depression, but it does not always do so. There is also healthy grief. Healthy grief is encouraged by honesty with oneself about the personal meaning of the loss, patience with oneself, time taken to explore feelings, the thoughts accompanying the loss, and willingness to share that process by talking to someone about it. There is no one-size-fits-all template for grief; it is personal to each individual and may be experienced widely varying in intensity and duration. For losses that are deeply personal, especially those of beloved family members or partners, grief may remain in some form indefinitely, mellowing hopefully, but perhaps ever present on some level. Loss of one’s child can epitomize such lasting grief.
Grief is most often regarded in conjunction with death of someone known to a person, sometimes people may also grieve after a divorce or breakup, at the loss of place after a move, or in response to loss of status of a job or other role change—school graduation, expulsion, or even end of comrade experiences in a difficult military tour. There may be many such losses, but death remains by far the most notable for most people.
Anders outlined the manifestations of grief in a few categories:
Feeling— such as sadness, shock, numbness, anger, guilt/regret, anxiety regarding the future, loss of interests
Cognitions/Thoughts— such as pre-occupation with the deceased or with mortality in general, ruminations which create sometimes elaborate trains of thought to blame self for the death or that one “should” have been able to prevent the loss
Visceral/physical feelings— such as fatigue, hollow in the pit of the stomach, muscle tension, dry mouth, light-headedness, tightness in the throat
Behaviors—changes in sleep or appetite, self-isolating.
Perhaps the most famous idea in western society on the issue of grief may come from Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross’ 1969 book: On Death and Dying. Hers were the famous “five stages of grief”.
These stages provide a convenient way of conceptualizing that grief involves differing emotional aspects and is not static. True enough. But perhaps inevitably as with anything that becomes so broadly famous, the stages of grief eventually attracted controversy and were challenged by many. There is no empirical evidence to make a compelling case for the stages as a universal phenomenon; it may very well be shaped by culture and social expectations. Also, the stages imply progression step by step, sequentially. Even Kuebler-Ross herself later clarified that the stages are not rigid nor ordered in the same way for every person with every loss; people may experience multiple stages simultaneously, in somewhat different orders, and even return again to previous stages.
In sum, I will borrow a quote from Caroline Kennedy who’s seen death so many times. “When we lose someone before their time, it takes the rest of our lives to understand, or to accept that we never will. We can stay connected to their spirit by doing things they enjoyed, caring for those they loved, sharing memories with their friends, and living and working for the things they believed in.”
For a full and helpful list of centers around the state, google “Psychology Today list of grief recovery centers in Louisiana”.