Individuals attempting to help others deal with issues of grief and loss often experience feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.
• A close friend is going through a divorce. Her feelings of anger, rejection and fear are pronounced and have produced confused thinking, erratic mood swings and pervasive pessimism. Your attempts to be supportive and caring seem to have a negative and opposite result from that intended.
• A colleague loses his job during a layoff. You attempt to let him know the sorrow you feel, but your sympathy is met with the statement, “Unless you lose your job too, you couldn’t possibly know how I feel.” You feel perplexed and hurt by his response to your attempts of support.
• A neighbor’s child is killed in an automobile accident. The child’s parents speak of their deceased child in the present tense and discuss the family’s activities as though the death had never occurred. You are somewhat bewildered, dumbfounded and unsure about how to respond to the denial of their child’s death.
• After a long illness, a close friend dies. You must deal with attempts to help the friend’s family as well as your own feelings of mourning. Your grief seems to impair your ability to express your feelings of love and concern to the family. You feel frustrated and embarrassed.
Before attempting to help others deal with issues of grief and loss, it is helpful to understand the stages that occur in the process of grief recovery.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of stages of grief experienced by dying people, has helped us understand more about a loving, caring and humane treatment of the dying and the grief and loss process. Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief that occur during the healing process:
- Denial – “Surely a mistake was made and the tragedy didn’t really occur.”
- Anger – “Why did this happen to him/her? Bad people deserve hurt, not good ones.”
- Bargaining – “If he/she can be cured of disease, I’ll devote the rest of my life to helping others.”
- Depression – “Under the circumstances, life doesn’t have any meaning for me.”
- Acceptance – “I must get past this situation and life must go on.”
These stages were originally observed in the dying patient but can be applied to the bereaved. The order in which they occur sometimes varies as does the length of time during which the grieving individual stays within any particular stage of grief.
Those attempting to express sympathy, love, concern and caring need to remember that these stages need to occur during the healing process.
Don’t try to discourage grieving and mourning in the person experiencing loss. Don’t try to tell them that you know how they fee; you don’t. Don’t pull away and isolate yourself. You may feel that you are doing nothing, but stating that you are available if needed can help.
Do let the grieving person know you care and are concerned about their welfare. Realize that the passage of time is an essential element in the healing process.
Copyright c 1994 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.