If anyone believes that losses experienced by others is not their concern, I’d ask them to think again. The cost, both individually and collectively, to our society of those experiencing complications from mourning is astronomical and all encompassing.
Complex or complicated mourning can be the result of multiple deaths, the death of a child, death from suicide, accident, homicide, unexpected loss and/or pre-existing conditions (before the death occurred) of alcoholism, abuse or mental illness. It is estimated that these difficult circumstances affect one out of every three mourners in the United States.
There are approximately 2 million deaths per year in the US alone. Each death, according to the research of Dr. Beverly Raphael, effects on average 8 to 10 family members (excluding friends, colleagues and other associations). Thus, there are a total of 16 to 20 million new mourners annually. With one in three of these mourners experiencing intense and complex mourning, the potential for 5 to 6 million instances of complicated mourning is very real.
The effects of grief, especially complicated grief, not only cause extensive individual suffering, but also bleed out into the workplace and community with increased rug and alcohol abuse among workers, absenteeism, accidents, ill-health, lower productivity and on occasion, social violence.
It is a natural instinct to deny, avoid or run away from pain. When someone in our life dies the emotion, thoughts and physical reactions can feel overwhelming and unbearable. It can feel, as one client said “like crawling through hell.” Unless we recognize and acknowledge such feelings and find healthy ways to release or live with the pain, the grief we experience comes out in unconscious ways and/or lies dormant until it is unexpectedly triggered by another event.
Most of us are not taught, nor do we have many examples of, how to “be” with feelings, thoughts or beliefs that make us feel uncomfortable and/or helpless. Instead of acknowledging such reactions in a safe environment or with someone we trust, we tend to act out or numb out. Some of us do this by drinking and others by diving into increased use of licit or illicit drugs. Sometimes we work until we drop or stay active to keep our mind off of the pain. At times, we lash out and project our suffering on to others, inadvertently blaming everyone and everything outside ourselves of the pain we are experiencing within.
I believe and my experience has demonstrated, that the majority of the violence that exists and is perpetuated in the world is the result of unrecognized and unresolved grief. People act out their pain from loss on others.
What we do with our losses and the accompanying reactions of sadness, pain and grief, make all the difference in the world. In many respects, the greatest gift we can give our families, communities and nation is to learn how to live with loss without causing further harm to others or ourselves.
If anyone still doesn’t believe that another person’s loss is any of their concern, I invite them to think about the death that have touched them, the web of lives that were and are affected by those deaths and gently reconsider.