grief and death



butterfly image

INTRODUCTION

WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT: WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU

When a person dies, his suffering is over, at least in life on earth. But those who are still living are faced with huge pressures, devastating trauma, important decisions, and powerful emotions. The survivors' suffering or grieving has just begun. The attention of friends and relatives has been focused on the one who was dying. But now the ones most closely affected by the death need the concern and caring of family and friends.

Most of us don't know what grief will be like until we experience it firsthand. We expect to be sad and hurt, but we may be surprised to feel other emotions like anger and guilt. We may discover that after someone dies, our relationships with others change. Our families and friendship may not be the same because of the changes we undergo after a loss.

In recent years, research has shown that there are identifiable patterns of emotions in grief. Knowing what those are can help you recognize that the turmoil and pain you feel are part of healing the injury that death has inflicted.

When a person can deal successfully with change, he can reach a higher level of growth, sensitivity and understanding of himself and others. The death of someone important in our lives is a change, a major one, sometimes a sudden one. But change, even painful change, is an important, necessary part of being alive.

Loss of someone through death is a particularly vii painful change, especially if you felt deep love toward that person. The more intense your love for her, your dependence on and hopes for her, the more it will hurt to lose her or him.

There's no getting around the pain; you must get through it. You can't avoid it, if you are truly alive to your emotions. Avoiding the emotions of grief is a dangerous business that can lead to illness and serious distress. Worst of all, not dealing with our emotions leaves us stuck psychologically, unable to change and grow. Continuing to dwell on the anger or depression or guilt that arises during grief would be like having and open cut on your skin that continues to bleed and leaves the injured flesh exposed. Not only does the wound never heal, but eventually infection sets in and leads to worse problems.

So it is with grief. Progress in healing happens gradually, but eventually it is completed. If healing is blocked, infection, in the form of emotional damage, arrested growth and inability to live life fully, takes over.

Healing is accomplished by grief work. It's work because you can't approach it passively; you have to manage it. You will sometimes feel pain and resistance. At times you think that you'll never recover from this loss. But by doing the work - experiencing, expressing and managing the emotions that you feel - you will recover. You'll be able to move from the past, to live in the present and envision the future.

Surviving grief doesn't mean that you no longer miss the one who died. That person is in your life forever, but his role in your life must change. You can continue to love him, but the love eventually becomes a smaller part of your life. You must say the final goodbye to him viii so that you can move on. You must let him go with love.

I came to write this book out of many years of experience as a counselor and a human being. My own life had contained a number of losses. My father committed suicide when I was a young woman. I had a baby who died. I have said goodbye to dear friends who died from accidents or illness. And, while I was writing this book, my mother died after several years of failing health. I've also experienced loss through divorce, moving, watching my children grow up and other personal and professional changes.

In counseling people who are grieving for their own losses, I've been able to draw on my experiences to assure them that others have felt the same kinds of pain and that one does survive. I've learned much from my clients about suffering and surviving. Now I'd like to share that knowledge and understanding with you.

People going through grief have some things in common, such as the stages of the grief process. The first three chapters cover these universal experiences. The material in these chapters can help you with any grieving situations, whether for death in you own life, or when a friend has a loss, or when you are faced with a change through illness, separation or financial crisis.

The next five chapters go into more detail about specific losses. Although grieving follows a predictable pattern, the experience of losing a wife after fifty years of marriage is not the same as the death of a teen - age son or a best friend. Each chapter looks at some of the special problems connected with specific losses, while also containing material that may apply in other situations.

The chapter on death of the self is written to offer aid to those who have a terminal illness, or those close to someone who must face death soon. Another chapter looks at the unique circumstances facing the survivors of a suicide.

The last two chapters are meant to help you recognize the patterns in your life that may influence how you process grief. You can identify your own ways of coping with change and use this knowledge to heal yourself and choose to continue living. The most important thing I can tell you is that you can choose. Life can go on in a rich, exciting way - you are the one who has the power to make it happen.

You may decide to read only parts of this book right now, especially if you're groping for ways to handle a particular recent loss. You may find there are parts you'll come back to later. You may even find sections you don't understand or don't believe. But later those ideas will mean more to you, when you have moved from one stage of grief to another. The book can help you be better prepared for deaths in the future or to complete your grief for a long - ago death which you may never have released.

My wish is to help you understand your process as you grieve, to realize that grief has a progressive course and to assist in knowing that through all your current pain you will survive and, in time, once more experience joy in living.

Emotional reactions to the death of a loved one follow a fairly defined course. By giving in to these feelings and letting them occur in their natural timing, and being aware of things you may go that block the process, healing will take place. Death is a wound - a severe and painful psychological wound. As with any injury to the physical body, healing requires tender loving care, gentleness, and time.

Grieving is all the feelings, reactions and changes that occur during the process of healing. You have a choice of how you will heal yourself, although it may not feel like a conscious choice in the beginning. One choice is to allow yourself to grieve, to feel all of the anguish and fear and pain as they present themselves to you. This is the choice that eventually allows you to go on with your life.

The other choice is a move toward non - feeling toward your own psychological death and eventually toward your physical death. Previous grieving patterns and individual personality traits contribute to the way you will naturally react to bereavement in the beginning. These are your natural predispositions, but you can change if old patterns do not serve you well.

What's most important in leaning to live with loss is letting yourself fee. Allow! Allow! Allow yourself to feel - to experience - to live again.