In the last three months, a handful of my friends have lost a parent, another close relative, or friend. I’ve spent the past week making arrangements for a dear relative with just a few months to live. My morning jog usually clears my mind and rejuvenates me, but this past week I’ve found myself breaking down in tears even as the sharp morning light and cool air wakes me from the nights of sleeplessness. Grieving our loved ones is a natural process and how we grieve is bound by culture, our relationship to the individual and how they passed. The grieving process can last a few months to a year, but most severe symptoms tend to dissipate after 6-12 months. In the process we may feel shock, tremendous sadness, anger, emptiness, depression, anxiety, etc. My dear relative has survived cancer 3 times so I had plenty of warning that his health was declining, yet I found myself exhausted physically and emotionally. Kubler-Ross describes the normal grieving process as including five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. However, when progression through these stages is blocked or disturbed, symptoms can last much longer. A prolonged and disruptive grief is called Complicated Grief. People at high risk for complicate grief include those very close to the deceased; those who have a highly dependent or complicated relationship with the deceased; when the death was sudden; those experiencing multiple losses; those who lack social support; those with a history of mental illness and/or substance abuse; those with multiple concurrent stressful events; and those who do not have traditions for mourning and grieving. Grief Therapy is usually time-limited and focuses on helping the individual accept the reality of the loss; work through emotional pain; adapt to a new life stage without the person who passed; establish a new relationship with the deceased through memories and legacy of the deceased; and reengaging in life.
In A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion gives a vivid description of grief. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”