Moving beyond grief

Thursday, January 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:25 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It’s something that happens every day, but you rarely think about it until it happens to you. It’s the grief you experience from the loss of a loved one, and there are a number of misconceptions about it.

Ken Livingston, a social worker with Boone Hospital Home Care Hospice, said one of the main things people misunderstand about the grieving process is they think they are going crazy.

“It is a very intense feeling and they think everything in their life is falling apart,” he said. “People have the idea that they are the only ones in the world that feel or have felt like that.”

Deanna Pledge, a licensed psychologist in Columbia, said people assume that grief is the same for everyone.

“There are so many individual differences,” Pledge said.

“Some people deal with their grieving immediately upon a loss; for other people, it could be months and even years for them to address those things.”

She said a similar mistaken assumption is that people should be done with grieving by a certain point and time. Some bury their emotions.

“Many folks deny they’re struggling with grief and then, of course, we might notice some behavioral changes for them,” Pledge said.

Livingston said there is no right or wrong way to grieve. “People do it in their own ways,” she said.

What to do

One of the most important things grieving people can do, Pledge said, is to allow themselves to feel.

“They should give themselves permission to feel whatever it is they’re feeling,” Pledge said.

Pledge also said the reactions a person feels are predicated on the type of loss they experience, whether it is the expected death of an older family member or the sudden loss of a young person.

“You don’t have to be the caretaker for someone else; you don’t have to be strong for someone else,” she said. “It’s fine to go ahead and experience the sadness, and sometimes anger, and the shock and disbelief of losing someone.”

Livingston said some people begin to grieve prior to the death of a loved one because people with certain illnesses experience a prolonged death.

He also spoke of how helpful group sessions and simply talking about their feelings can be.

He said that people dealing with loss or grief can find meaningful activities and get involved in the community again to help deal with the pain.

“They can keep a journal to see the progress they’ve made,” he said. “Memories are also a good way to keep them alive.”

“Religion is comfort for some people, especially during holiday reminiscences about the deceased loved one,” Livingston said.

Things to avoid

Pledge said that no matter what the type of loss, one should not try to cover up or deny grieving or try to rush back to work, school or other activities.

“It’s important to give yourself enough time to recover from the loss,” she said.

Livingston said people should avoid burying grief and pretending that it doesn’t exist. “It’s not a healthy thing to do,” he said.

How friends can help

“There are generally lots of folks around the first few days, but after the visitation and funeral, the person may feel more lonely,” Pledge said.

“This is a good time for friends and family to check in.”

Pledge said that even though you may not know exactly what a grieving person is feeling, it is important just to let them know that you are there and you care.

Livingston said people trying to comfort the grieving person should avoid saying things like, “Oh, you’ll get over it” or “They’re in a better place now.”

“Friends need to listen and let them cry,” he said.

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