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Understanding Grief 

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. ~ Kahlil Gibran

While we all need to work through our loss, there is no set way to deal with the death of someone we love. In experiencing grief people go through a range of jarring, contradictory emotions such as denial, anger, sorrow, guilt, and relief. People may fluctuate from feeling stable to being depressed.

Ultimately, however, the key to dealing with death is the ability to accept and adapt to change. We must accept our loss, and we know we have achieved this when we can see the life of our loved one as a fond memory rather than as a harsh reality.

According to research, some or all of the following emotions emerge throughout the course of a normal grieving process:

  • Shock and surprise 
    People are rarely prepared for someone’s death. In fact, the reality of death may not occur to a person for a number of days afterward. 
  • Emotional release 
    The healthy release of tension and other emotions usually occurs at the funeral or with family and friends, but this is only the beginning of the grieving process. 
  • Physical distress and anxiety 
    During some more advanced stages of the grieving process, a person may feel so lonesome that he or she appears to develop symptoms of physical distress. 
  • Loneliness 
    After the funeral, when family and friends have gone home, feelings of emptiness, isolation, and depression may occur. 
  • Panic 
    It may become difficult to concentrate because of constant memories of the deceased. In fact, this may cause a person to worry about his or her own stability. Not knowing what is happening or what to do can result in panic and weakened self-esteem. 
  • Guilt 
    Oftentimes survivors of the deceased dwell on the things they could have done differently and may even feel responsible for the person’s death.
  • Hostility and projection 
    This is one of the most difficult stages for relatives and friends because the survivor suddenly becomes hostile to those whom he or she thinks could have helped prevent the death. Family and friends should be tolerant and non-defensive. 
  • Fatigue 
    Usually the survivor suffers in silence, weary from the depression and frustration. Becoming more active is part of the answer. 
  • Gradual overcoming of grief 
    Through the affection and encouragement of friends and family, gradually a new meaning of life unfolds. 
  • Readjustment to reality 
    Recalling the deceased becomes a pleasant experience and planning for the future becomes more realistic. 

If you, a family member, or friend are experiencing any of these symptoms, realize they are all part of the normal, healthy, and absolutely necessary process of grieving.

Basic Needs of the Bereaved 

One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider our problems, can change our whole outlook on the world. ~ Dr. Elliott Mayo

A healthy balance of companionship and privacy
The bereaved require both time to reflect and time to share their feelings. 

The opportunity to express grief without embarrassment
It is essential to provide a warm, comforting environment in which the bereaved can express their feelings openly and honestly. 

Recognition of symptoms that may result from intense grieving
These symptoms often resemble physical changes that occur during or following a serious illness, including changes in: 

  • Sleep patterns
  • Energy levels 
  • Eating habits 
  • Behavioral patterns 
  • Support and assistance in reentering the social world
  • Bereaved people need to be able to trust and depend on others to help them cope with the new social situations. 

The knowledge that grief is a normal, healthy process of life

Assistance in resolving legal matters and business affairs
The bereaved need someone to help them think clearly, settle issues, and plan for the future. 

The opportunity to share their experience of loss
An active, patient, open-minded listener can facilitate others’ healing by helping the bereaved reach their own conclusions about death, dying, and loss. 

Six Mourning Needs

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., has identified what he calls the “six mourning needs.” There are several ways to address each of these needs and to find comfort throughout the planning of the funeral, the actual visitation or wake, the funeral or memorial service, and long afterward.

Although life will never be the same without the person who has died, part of him or her will remain a part of us as long as we remember what is important and forget the rest. Eventually, a new feeling of normalcy will emerge.  When someone we love passes away, we need to do the following:

Experiment with ways to acknowledge the reality of death.
Have a wake or visitation, speak of the person by name and in the past tense, touch the body’s hands and notice how they feel, sit with the body in private for a while, talk to the body or cremated remains (even if only in your head), or think about the things that will be different without the deceased person.

Try to move toward the pain of the loss.
Viewing the dead body may be one of the most painful yet therapeutic moments for survivors, according to Dr. Wolfelt. Open yourself to your feelings by listening to music, reading poems or quotations, creating a list of what you’ll miss most, or visiting favorite places and feeling the difference of these places without your deceased friend or family member.

Remember the person who has died.
Talk about him or her, look at scrapbooks or albums you may have, set up a display of his or her hobbies or talents, play the person’s favorite music, or wash and fold his or her clothes.

Develop a new self-identity.
How are you different since he or she died? How are you the same? What can you do now that you didn’t consider before the death? Make a list of your strengths and needs, then create a plan for using those strengths and taking care of your needs.

Search for meaning.
Consider the deep questions about life. Ask “why” questions in many ways until you begin to envision an answer—even if you believe the answer would make no difference to you. Ponder what lessons might be learned from the deceased person’s life and read poetry or philosophy that enriches your understanding of life and death.

Receive support from others.
Learn to say “thank you” sincerely. Accept that you deserve support from others. Write notes to people who sent flowers, brought food, baby-sat, chopped wood, or whatever kind of gesture. Let people know what you would need or appreciate, or call a friend and explain that you just need to talk.

Roper & Sons Funeral Home Grief Support Group

Roper and Sons Funeral Home offers grief support to anyone wishing to participate. Our group sessions are open to the public. This group meets on Sunday afternoons from 2 - 3:30 p.m. in our Reception Hall. Click here (link to Upcoming Workshops) for detailed session listing.

Further information is available by contacting Jennifer Clark at (402) 580-0019 or Jodi Freeman at (402) 476-1225.