Feeling the Grief?
By Taryn Lacey, MA, MHC-P, Niagara Hospice Bereavement Counselor
Have you noticed a difference in yourself (or others) after the death of your loved one? Not quite sure if it's normal, healthy, destructive - or mean anything at all? For some of us, there is a very specific and negative way we cope with grief. Researchers have coined the term Experiential Avoidance and provide a definition of: an attempt to block out, reduce or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations (http://www.psychosocial.com/).
When we have internal experiences that are perceived to be painful or threatening and might include fears of losing control, being embarrassed, or physical harm and thoughts and feelings including shame, guilt, hopelessness, meaninglessness, separation, isolation, etc., we may try to block them out. For example, putting away your deceased loved one's belongings before you're ready might be in an effort to avoid reminders of that person. It isn't uncommon to use short term relief of discomfort in the form of avoidance to block out such negative feelings. But is it healthy?
When in mourning, you may experience waves of emotions. Such intense emotion, or intense caring for something, can be scary! However, in order to sort through the comings and goings of these feelings it is highly suggested that we deal with the problem and not avoid it. As with anything, problem solving is key when learning new things. Grief is no different. I know I wasn't given a handbook for these kinds of intense feelings, and without talking about what I'm thinking or feeling with a welcoming ear, I'm not quite sure I'd know what to do.
You're human, so I'm guessing you're the same as me. If you are numbing the emotions of grief felt on a daily basis in response to certain situations or memories, don't go at it alone. Half the battle is recognizing it. Now act on it; call a friend, family member, counselor, or your hospice bereavement team. Counselors want to help because we care, and we know the reality of mental health and its importance in your daily living. If you have identified yourself or someone you care about with complete avoidance of situations, memories, or thoughts in an effort to minimize exposure to unpleasant emotions, support them. Encourage them to LET IT OUT. Listen or refer them to someone who can help.
Some signs to look for when avoiding emotional distress include over-working, staying busy, focusing only on the needs of the children without care for self, constantly saying, "I'm fine," substance abuse, throwing oneself into advocacy (wait 1 year to volunteer!), emotional or physical isolation, cutting yourself off from certain family and friends that are helpful, seeking constant distraction, avoiding certain places, apathy,emotional eating, giving up, fighting. (www.whatsyourgrief.com)
Death can bring about a different side in everyone, including you. Families are no different; they are also grieving the loss of a loved one. Keep in mind that as family members are dealing with death and their roles in your family system are tested, they may not be emotionally available to you during times of need. That is another reason why hospice includes a supportive service to you and your family as you grieve. We're all different; we love differently, we grieve differently. For today, take a deep breath and do something that interests you and helps to put your mind, and heart, at ease. Take Care!