As humans, we are designed for relationships. We are driven to connect with others, and these connections are the root for many joys and pleasures, but also give purpose to our lives. There is a cost, however, that is demanded for these benefits. That cost is grief. At some point we will lose that relationship, either subjectively or in actuality, as through death.
Grief is a universal experience, not dependent on age, status, gender or intellect, and yet is so individualized that it makes preparing for it and experiencing it hard to generalize. There are some issues that would behoove us to discuss in order to help others, or ourselves, when a loss occurs.
One of the essential needs someone has after the death of a loved one is the opportunity to tell the story of who that person was. This may include the retelling of their death, or the circumstances of their illness, but it may also be memories from the past and accounts of them as a person. The ironic thing is that usually after death, other people don’t want to bring the loss up, for fear of creating sadness or being awkward. Once someone said, “After my husband died, he was always on my mind, so the idea that by saying his name, or asking me a question about him would send me into a depressive tailspin is ridiculous!” In truth, those grieving crave the opportunity to talk about their loved one, and are just waiting for someone to bring it up.
This desire to keep the memory alive by retelling the story of their life does not go away in the weeks after the loss, if anything, it gets stronger. The odd notion that a year after someone dies, life should be back to normal, just devoid of that person, is foolish. What better time to ask a friend to tell you some memories about the person who’s gone.
The other important concept in grief is that there are no stages to go through leading to acceptance. There are common aspects of grief people may have depending on the circumstances of the death itself. For instance, some may feel guilt. This may be guilt in the decisions made, or regrets just prior to the event, but can also be survivor’s guilt in ‘Why didn’t I go first?’ Others feel relief, which can seem abnormal, but usually, if there has been suffering involved its natural to have relief that the suffering is over. Still others get angry, wanting to blame someone or something for the loss. Finally, some feel anxious or helpless, such as with the loss of parents or a spouse who’s provided much support.
The key is that these emotions are normal, and it’s possible to feel many all at the same time.
While grief is an expected part of death, if it begins to affect your health, your job, or your relationships it may be time to seek help.
There is a price for relationships, and at some point we all experience grief. By inviting others to tell their stories we can ensure that when our turn comes, someone will be around to listen to us.