The Many Faces of Grief

Posted on July 02, 2018

    As soon as we say or hear the word grief the first thing that generally comes to mind is death. But there is more to grief than death; we are human beings so we grieve “the things that are part of our lives, or that are not part of our lives.” In the couple of years that I have been facilitating grief groups for those who grieve that death of a loved one, I have learned, as have they that in death there are also very many hidden griefs.

A few stories:
     Lynn and her family had to place Tom, who was husband, dad, and grandpa, in permanent Alzheimer’s care three months ago. Tom is just 65. Last week we were having coffee and she said I just can’t quit being sad. She said, “I see Tom twice a week, I know that Tom is in the right place, I should feel better.” Her daughter has been angry beyond imagination at her dad, she said “I will never go see him!” Over coffee I said “you know you are grieving.” Both pulled back and said “huh, Tom, Dad is not dead.” No, but they have lost the presence of husband, dad, friend, his sense of humor, the one who cut the lawn and trimmed the trees, who played Legos with the two-year-old grandson, the grandpa who won’t know the baby just born in April. For years before placement Lynn was his caretaker. There is the hidden grief that many feel they have lost a sense of purpose. Roles and responsibilities at home have changed, they grieve.

Phyllis, age 50, had to quit her job. Taking her daughter to Mayo, paying for pills and caring for her became Phyllis’ life. She lost her home, her job and pension, her circle of friends, her identity that gave life meaning, being Mom. Her daughter died, she was just 14, it was four years ago. The loss consumes her heart and soul and there are all the other losses. She is in a journey to find herself, who am I now? Her job gave her meaning, now she works but it is a job not her chosen career. She has a home, a very small one, not the big 2 story that was home. Her circle of parent friends have gone on, doing things with their kids and it is hard to make new friends. She was divorced long before the death of her child. The other children still can’t cope with the loss of their little sister and the relationships in the family all changed. Phyllis grieves lots of things.

And lastly, a friend had been in the perfect job for 15 years working in the inner city. The position was paid for by the county and they decided out of the clear blue that they wanted to switch the budget and fund something else. Her job ended, the work that gave her life meaning ended, the place where she gave hope, found life and purpose was shut down. She grieves the loss of her job, the loss of her sense of identity, the people in the community who were in and out for years, volunteers who were friends, who cared for others. Now she gets up in the morning with her purpose up in the air. She feels that she has no value and that her work was not valued. She is not dead but she also grieves.

We live in a world where we don’t give people much of a chance to grieve death much less anything else. We are all supposed to move on quickly when “stuff happens.” We all have losses that affect us and healing and moving on differs for each person.

Judy Mulock, an area grief counselor, suggests many kinds of loss.

Material losses: loss of valued, treasured items. Think of hurricane/flood victims, those pictures, things that have been in the family forever. Maybe you lost your favorite baseball cap, not important because of the team but how you got it. Loss of financial security. Society rarely says, take time to get through this, we are supposed to just move on.

Developmental/functional loss: We grieve illness, mental and physical changes that cause a loss of independence, of ability. Addictions turn lives upside down, physical loss that means maybe use of walker, or wheelchair. Maybe we have lost our hearing or eyesight. We can no longer drive. Yes, we can move on but the loss, the grief, the change is real.

Psychological losses: changes in relationships, divorce, role changes at work, broken life dreams, changes are what gives you purpose. Our jobs can be our identity, loss of job can feel like we have lost ourselves.

Role losses; Job changes, change in marital status, kids leaving home, lay off, retirement. Each change is a change and somethings are lost. With these losses some things are gained so often we are in this “mixed bag” the good, the bad, the hard, the new challenges so there maybe celebration and grief, both needing to be acknowledged. 

Systemic losses: Things that you have no control over, changes in business groups, legal issues, estate issues, health issues.

Relational loss, memory loss, loss of a pet, divorce, death, change in traditions, changes in neighborhoods. This is really just a partial list, grief at so many levels and very real.

The hard thing about these griefs is that many around us do not recognize that grieving is real; this is just life and you are supposed to move forward.

James and Friedman in his Book Grief Recovery defines recovery as “Claiming your circumstances, instead of circumstances claiming you and your happiness.” Recovery is finding new meaning for living, recovery is being able to enjoy fond memories without having them bring on painful feeling of regrets or remorse. Grief often needs us to have people around us that understand.  Where can you go for coffee or a brew or to pray with someone who just listens?

There is no magic timetable for how we move through our losses; the size or event is not a determining factor. Grief is about you and where you are in relationship to whatever it is that has been lost. Grieving one thing generally means there is more going on beneath what the articulated grief is. Grief is part of being a human being.

Grieving in good health matters, don’t get stuck and if you sense that you are pay attention and get help and support. Touching your grief will make you more understanding of others who grieve. Give it time, more than 24 hours. Only you will know when you have moved through your grief, when you have given your loss a place in you that is a memory, and now you are able to step beyond into living life well.

By: The Rev. Maureen Doherty, Continuous Care Coordinator



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