Haims: Friends, family and professionals can help with grieving
This past year has been heart-wrenching. Communities everywhere have experienced unprecedented loss of lives from ravaging fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and COVID-19. Locally, making matters worse was the dreadful loss of lives last week to four local skiers and the death of Jeff Brausch, another longtime local, who lost his fight with cancer on Jan. 29.
After a loss of a loved one, it is understandable that most people may suffer damaging effects on their physical and/or mental health. An untimely and unexpected passing of a loved one can burden surviving family and friends with increased risk of death from stress and anxiety which can lead to heart concerns, and in some cases, contribute to thoughts of suicide.
Friends and family can help those who are bereaved by reaching out and connecting, expressing your love, listening, and sharing in the pain and dark moments. Know when to be there and when to give someone the space they need to process.
There is no time limit, nor a best way for someone to grieve. Grieving is a personal process. While there are commonalities among people who have experienced loss, the grief one experiences from the loss of a loved one is unique to each person. Everyone has different abilities in managing stress, coping abilities, control over their emotional state, and skills to cope with trauma.
When someone struggles for an extended period of time and can’t seem to find their way out of the shock, disbelief, denial and despair from the loss of a loved one, it may be a sign that some professional help may be appropriate. While it is quite normal and expected to experience these symptoms, when the sense of loss becomes an insurmountable impasse, it may be time to look into grief counseling or grief therapy.
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Grief counseling is one of many tools that can help people process the difficult emotions associated with grieving. While there are many theories and models for grieving, there some commonalities amongst them all. The five most common theories/stages of grieving are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Denial is the first stage of the theories. As people struggle and attempt to comprehend the reality of the situation, denial acts as a defense process that assists in understanding what has happened.
As people process the shock and confusion of a loss, they often find that they are easily distracted, procrastinate, forget, and often attempt to keep themselves busy. Denial is frequently a temporary stage that helps people cope and give the brain time to understand. As denial fades, healing begins.
The second stage of common grief theory is anger. Understandably, anger may be manifested out of rage, frustration, and a sense of feeling out of control. At this stage, people will often ask “why me” and say “this is not fair.” Sometimes, people may blame others, question their beliefs, and even direct the anger and blame toward the person who has died.
It is at this stage that people may need to be surrounded by those they love and the closest of friends. While it is a cathartic period that begins a healing process, anger can cause people to feel isolated and disconnected from others and reality. It is also a time that people may choose to drown their sorrows in alcohol or drugs.
In the bargaining stage of grief, people often find themselves experiencing fear, anxiety, guilt and shame. It is here that people often plead and make requests of their higher power or religion. Feelings of helplessness and pain often leave people thinking that they could have influenced a different outcome.
Asking oneself “what could I have done” to change the situation and “if only” statements like, “if only I had done….” are false hopes that the situation could have ended differently or that one could have controlled the outcome. This is a very normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.
Depression is the stage and time where people realize the profound sadness and totality of the loss. This is a complicated stage as feelings of despair, disappointment, and hopelessness often lead to reduced motivation, loss of appetite, and lack of social interaction.
As the weight of the loss takes grip, depression surfaces and people tend to turn inward. While very natural, it can be very isolating and leaves friends and loved ones on the sidelines. This is exactly when a hug and comforting from a friend or family member may be most needed.
Most theories of grief place acceptance and the final stage of grieving. It is at this stage that people may begin to think about the future and new goals. This is a stage of validation and self-acceptance. While it does not mean that grieving is over, the process of grieving is likely more manageable.
The loss of a loved one is traumatic. Feeling out of control or lost is very natural. If family and friend are not what you personally need to get through, our valley has many resources. Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has many resources and can align individual needs to the right provider. You can find help at eaglevalleybh.org or by calling (970) 476-0930. Celynn McClarrinon is also a fabulous resource. She is a long time local and a grief recovery specialist who can share personal experiences and empathy and can be reached at (970)-376-8248.
Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary – it’s a sign of strength. For those who have been taken from us and for those they have left behind, know that they have touched the lives of many and live in our hearts.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be contacted at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or at 970-328-5526.