A few months ago my friend Bruce Barber asked me to write a response to the question "How do you cope with the loss of a love one?" for his website, Real Life Survival Guide. Here is what I wrote:
My first real life up close experience with grief was when my dearest friend and her brother were killed in a car accident. We were just twenty-three years old and had known each other since kindergarten. Her death, and the death of her brother, had a profound impact on how I came to view life and life's loss. Nine years ago my mother died of pancreatic cancer and two years later, my father quietly died in his sleep. While each death is unique and tells its own story, the process of grief followed the same path.
Here's what I know about grief.
1) Grief is natural, even though it doesn't feel like it.
2) Grief is not depression, even though it puts you in the deepest sadness.
3) Grief cannot be hurried, even if others say it is time to 'move on'.
4) Grief is not linear; sometimes it feels like a quiet, cloudy day, the next a battering hurricane and back again.
5) Grief is sneaky, be prepared to be surprised by it.
6) Grief is necessary; even though it is our instinct to avoid pain, allow it.
In my practice I've seen people who have suffered horrible loss – a child, a spouse. They come because they are having trouble 'getting over it'. There are rare cases when grief does get stuck and morphs into major depression or dysthymia. Years after the death of a loved one, carrying on healthy relationships with the living, work or caring for their family is too great a burden. People who find themselves in this kind of situation do need professional help and I am glad they come to me.
But in many cases, the bereaved just needs time and the assurance that their pain is natural. There is a reason most cultures set aside an entire year for mourning. In a year we experience all those 'firsts'. The first Mother's Day without my mother was brutal. My first birthday. After a year, it still hurt. But each subsequent year hurts less and less until they are dull echos of the first.
If you are grieving or know someone who is, please do not tell them to 'move on' or 'get over it,' even if it is the family dog they've lost. Respect the pain, connect with the deceased loved one through shared memories. With time and love, the one who has passed, will live again within those who survive. And those who survive will embrace life even more fully than before.
Please share your thoughts on grief and loss in the comments below.
For more on this subject, here is an excellent article by Cheryl Dyrness: Six Things I have Learned Since Dad Died.