Losing a loved one challenges the strongest person. You alone know the pain and sorrow you feel.
Bereavement is a varied and difficult landscape to navigate. An emotional avalanche of fear, guilt, sadness, sorrow and more covers you completely. Sleep hides and so does your appetite. What exactly is bereavement and how does it differ from the other thoughts and feelings that follow the death of a loved one?
Grieving. Mourning. Bereavement.
Grieving describes the emotions you feel after losing someone. The expression of those emotions is called mourning (the tears, the breathlessness, or expressing anger.) I call that difficult duet bereavement: feeling (grieving) and then expressing (mourning) the deep pain and sadness inside.
Expressing emotions is important. If we hold them in, they may show up as stress, body pain or worse. So how do we deal with bereavement or support someone during this tender time?
A Friend in Need
When dealing with someone in bereavement think counter-intuitively. For example, we naturally want to avoid the loss altogether, but we should talk about it. We want to cheer the person up, but that may not be what they want. We want to tell them it is going to be okay, but right now it is not okay. It is fine to ask, "Tell me how are you feeling since the loss of you dad?" or "What do you miss most about...?" It is important that the grieving person be allowed to express their emotions if they want to, and that you offer the comfort of listening.
To help you cope with bereavement or with a bereaved friend, let's look at a few myths and facts.
MYTH #1: The pain will go away faster if ignored.
FACT: Ignoring your pain or pushing it down will only make it worse in the long run.
For healing to occur, it is necessary to face grief and actively deal with it. I am often asked, "When will it be over?" My answer is, "We need to go through it." Friends can prod, "When will you get over it?" You don't get over it; you go through it and adjust to a new world with new realities.
Your loved one is gone and life is different. You will eventually adjust to the new emotions, new thoughts, new patterns of living and life will get better; but only as the bereavement process moves forward. Take mourning hour by hour and get help as you travel this new road.
MYTH #2: I need to be "be strong" and not cry while grieving.
FACT: Bending is okay and crying is not weakness.
When we hear a joke we laugh without apology, we should do the same with crying, it is as normal as laughing. Sadness, fear, or loneliness are natural emotions. You need not "protect" your family by being strong; in fact this may isolate them from you. Showing true feelings helps family and friends process grief as a team and can strengthen bonds.
MYTH #3: If I do not cry, I must not really be sorry about my loss.
FACT: Crying is not the only expression of sadness.
People grieve differently. Those who don't cry may feel their pain just as deeply as those who do; they simply may have other ways of expressing it. Expecting specific behaviors we think are signs of grieving can lead to disappointment. Allow yourself to grieve in your way, find your unique pattern. You may cry or want to take a walk.
MYTH #4: I should get over grief quickly.
FACT: There is no set time on the length of grieving.
Grieving time differs from person to person; looking for a timetable can create frustration. You may ride a roller coaster of emotions with good days and bad ones - that's normal. Allow yourself time to process, grow and adjust. The first year is difficult with many "firsts" without your loved one: the first birthday, Christmas, summer vacation. Beware of looking for a magical date when things are suddenly easier and you are done grieving.
MYTH #5: I am going crazy.
FACT: Your experiences are normal.
If you are the survivor of a loved one such as husband, wife, son or daughter; you may feel you are going crazy with the wash of emotions and mystical experiences. In the aftermath of the loss, many have told me of seeing, feeling, or smelling their loved one. Some people hear them, or experience vivid dreams. This does not mean you are losing it, just experiencing bereavement.
If you are in bereavement, please find a friend or skilled person to help. Dark times can be scary, but holding someone's hand and having someone come alongside you in this difficult season, can be a source of great comfort and peace.
Jim Johnston has been a pastor in the Pasadena area for over 30 years. He is a chaplain for Sanctuary Hospice in Glendale, CA. helping hospice patients and their families cope with end of life issues. Johnston also holds bereavement sessions for those who have lost loved ones. He and his wife Laura also provide marriage and relationship coaching.
Websites: sanctuaryhospiceca.com, coachourmarriage.com