Until I lost four family members in 2007, I never thought about grieving styles. Then my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and my grandchildren’s father died. I was paralyzed with loss and wondered if I would always be unhappy. Thankfully, common sense kicked in and I decided to help myself. What did I do?
I sat down at the computer and started writing about grief and recovery. My articles were short, with an average count of 500 words, and posted on a royalty-free website. National organizations found the articles and posted them as well. Writing helped me so much I made a promise to myself: I will write my way through grief. As I look back, I realize my grieving style is matter-of-fact.
Years ago, my next door neighbor, a dear friend I called Aunty Barbara, lost her husband suddenly. While he was at work, he dropped dead of a heart attack. Though she was a nurse and familiar with sorrow, Barbara did all she could to avoid grief. She never talked about her husband and was always rushing from one place to another, in an attempt to outrun grief. Several months after her husband died she impulsively married a man she barely knew. The marriage lasted a week.
Ian Anderson, of the University of Toronto, and his co-authors, describe this grief response in their paper, “Grief and Bereavement: A Practical Approach.” During the confrontational phase of grief, according to the authors, some mourners are so restless they can’t sit still. They can’t stick with their normal routine and withdraw from people who might be able to help them. Both of these observations fit my neighbor.
Delaying grief is similar to avoidance, and it can be dangerous to you. If you delay grief it festers and just becomes worse. Feelings build up and you don’t know when they will reach maximum capacity and implode or explode. I’ve met people who delay grief and they’re always dour. A looming problem for delayed grief is that it can become conflicted grief, expressed with extreme anger and guilt.
I’ve met people, and you probably have too, who became angry people after their loved one died. Anger seems to be their only response and it spills over into all corners of their lives. Being with these people isn’t any fun. Unfortunately, delaying grief can push people away just at a time when you need comfort and help.
Then there are the mourners who decide, consciously or unconsciously, to wallow in sadness. You could say they are stuck in grief. Death happened years ago, yet these people act like it happened last week. Experts call this response chronic grief. As Ian Anderson and his colleagues explain, “It is like the grief is fresh all the time.” Who wants to live this way? Not me and, hopefully, not you.
Cutting grief short is another response. Therese A. Rando, PhD defines it in her book, How to go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. Short-lived as it is this is still normal grief. “Often it occurs when a significant amount of anticipatory grief has been completed prior to death,” Rando explains. This happens because you’ve done so much grieving already. I understand this explanation because I was my mother’s family caregiver for nine years. Each day, I watched her die a little bit more.
Year after year, I faced the reality of my mother’s dementia, documented her journey, and adapted to it. After she died, my mourning was short, and I found comfort in the fact that I had never failed my mother and always done my best. And I can’t help but chuckle at something my mother said: You may be doing your best, but it isn’t good enough.” She was right. My caregiving couldn’t reverse progressive dementia or make her young again.
Though you may be in the depths of despair, take a moment to think about your grieving style. What is it? Are you moving from one style to another? Have you created your own style? Is your style working? If not, you have the option of changing your style. Humans are resilient. We are blessed to have minds that gather data, interpret it, and make insightful decisions. You have the power to find your way through grief, plan a future, and find happiness again.