It might be better to think of grief as a swinging pendulum rather than specific stages that every person will go through as they process their loss, says Amy Sloboda, manager of the Grief Counseling Center of Hosparus Health. There may be occasions in the grieving process when sadness, anger, or anxiety are felt more intensely than at other times. There may be grief triggers, such as certain smells, tastes, or music that bring on increased emotional response. Rather than having an expectation of what will happen, it may be better to accept whatever feelings you have as your normal.
Sometimes people have expectations not only for themselves, but for the other grieving members of their family. But, Amy says, “it is important to give each person his space and allow him to grieve in his own way, even if it is very different from how you grieve.” She says many women want to talk and process their loss, while men often process their grief by doing something. A man might take on a project as a means of working through his feelings, although there are plenty of men who attend and benefit from Hosparus’ men’s grief support group.
Whitney Bishop’s mother died as a result of suicide in 1968 when Bishop was 19-months-old, and it took her nearly a lifetime to grieve this loss. “My family was incapable of helping me. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I began that [grieving] process,” she says. Her family didn’t talk about her mother or acknowledge Whitney’s feelings, which caused her to doubt her own emotions. “It was a huge lesson for me and led me to validate my own feelings and those of my children,” she says. She had to give herself permission to grieve the way she needed to, which became a very liberating act. She realized that “when we are free to let go and explore what we want and need, then we are free to get closure.”
When family members grieve differently, it is important to find ways to compromise to help meet everyone’s needs. For example, at holiday gatherings following a death, some family members may want to talk about the deceased, while others feel very strongly that they do not wish to do this. Amy says that lighting a candle, setting out photos, or making favorite foods may be more subtle ways to help acknowledge the loss without upsetting anyone.
Just because a family experiences a death together doesn’t mean that the family is the best set of people with whom to grieve. Amy says individuals may need to find others they feel safe to grieve with. Hosparus Health offers sessions for families that help them learn how to communicate their grief, which may help some families avoid hurt feelings or arguments.
BY CARRIE VITTITOE