Death And Grief


Dealing with loss

death "the act of dying; the end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism"
grief "keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret"

What is it?

Death is a transition. To what, we truly do not know. We will not concern ourselves with the death itself, but with the lead up to the act. For those who have time to contemplate their passing it can be an intense period as many of the issues that were once swept under the carpet or pushed onto the back burner for a better time, come to the fore. Most of us who have made it into adulthood have some concept of death, but often it is not a well-developed concept simply because western culture does not value conversations about death. It hasn't always been so. Some cultures celebrate death. While birth, entering into this world is cause for great celebration in western culture, death, our exit seems to be a time for silence and sadness.

It is the end of a physical form, the end of physical influence, but not an end of emotional influence, or perhaps of spiritual form if you believe in such things. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, your memories of a loved one who has passed are not wiped clean by their passing. Each person who knew someone who has died reasonably well still has a version of the deceased in their heads. This is an independent version of the deceased, meaning that even after they have passed that version will continue and may even evolve and react to new events. The longer or better you knew them the more detailed the version you will have. You might see an older person conversing with a loved one long after they have gone. Over the years that person has learned millions of details about their loved one and knows exactly how they would react in any given situation, every gesture, every turn of phrase, the bad puns, the smiles. They have dedicated a part of their brain to recreate a virtual version of the loved one while they lived. This isn't a special skill. We all do it as a way to predict our relationships and therefore predict safety, but it also means we can continue to have interactions with those virtual people even after they pass. We take them with us, for as long as we are on this planet.

Grief is also a transition of sorts. We grieve other's death and we grieve our death. Grief can be experienced for many reasons, not just associated with a family member, friend, or well-loved pet passing away. One can have grief over losing a job, a relationship, a dream. Grief is a natural and essential process that carries us to a place of acceptance and equilibrium. Grief should be welcomed as it is the healing process needed over and over in our lives.

 

When it becomes a problem

Death itself is not a problem, it is what it is, but the lack of acceptance can be. Moving from your daily life of laundry and dinners and bills to the pointlessness of all of that and the prospect of the complete unknown is quite a transition in itself. At some point during life we all contemplate death and it is usually helpful in shaping priorities. Would you rather watch that mindless TV show or is it more important to hug your child? If today was the last day of your life, how would you choose to spend it?

Grief is challenging, comprising of multiple potential phases, but completely natural and healthy nonetheless. Grief can become a problem when it is held back, stiffed, and not allowed to proceed at a natural pace. Because of western society's discomfort with grief, so-called negative emotions, and death in general, there is a tendency to want to get it all by with as quickly as possible. Grief will not be swept under the carpet easily. Grief can easily transition to other issues when not properly processed. One might become stuck in any of the five recognized phases of grief, 'denial', 'anger', 'bargaining', 'depression'; or even 'acceptance', for any number of reasons. 

 

What Can I Do To Deal With Death Or Grief

There are many ways to deal with these challenges, both long term and immediate. If one solution doesn't work well for you, simply try another, and remember that these solutions are general and you are a unique individual with a long history that brought you to this point. Death and grief are paths leading to acceptance and that takes time. If you are dying then time might not be on your side and you need to know that you might not reach complete acceptance, but know that even a small amount of work towards your goal will make the journey easier. With grief you may have more time, but your acceptance may involve releasing yourself from powerful feelings of shame and guilt that you believe can only come from the one who has passed. This can be a difficult journey that may need a lot of support, but know that you can get to a place of peace in time.

Why One-to-One Therapy Is Important

There's a lot of self-help books, webpages, magazine articles that do their best to offer some guidance. This page is one of them, of course. While these resources can be a great help in the absence of any professional support, they have their limits. People do fit into loose categories, generally speaking, and general guidance will work, to a greater or lesser degree. Mileage may vary and for good reason. All diagnosis is based on an average human, which represents almost none of us completely beyond that fact that you are human and likely, statistically-speaking, to be somewhat average in many ways. This is why we have professionals in their field who know that the diagnosis is simply a starting point for deeper more specific investigation. 

Imagine for a moment, there is a row of houses, all built by the same company, all in the same year, on the same land. One year one of the houses springs a leak and floods the basement. The local plumber eventually locates the source of the leak in the upper bathroom, ripping out the wall and repairing the leak. The following year another house finds its basement flooded. Now, as the owner of that house you wouldn't go ripping out the wall in the upper bathroom expecting that the leak would be in the same place, would you? You'd smartly call in the professional, the plumber who, knowing the layout of these houses, might suspect locations where to start looking with the least amount of wall damage in the process. Whether DIY or self-help it is always good to gather more knowledge about a subject, but it is also good to know when to call a professional. The other challenge with self-help, at least in the mental health field, is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to distance yourself from yourself to accurately see the challenges and issues involved. This is why counselors do not counsel themselves, despite having all the many years of training, skills and experience required, but instead rely on other professionals to help them through their challenges. Your symptoms may sound like many other people's symptoms, and your general background may appear similar to others, but the fact is that even small differences may require different and specific approaches to be successful. Ultimately any long-term working solution should include a period of therapy, whether counseling or medication treatment, where your specific background and current needs and situations can be properly investigated.

 


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