National Grief Awareness Day is August 30th, which makes this a good time to reflect on the many forms which grief can take, and how we should all be a little more sensitive to what our fellow humans are going through, especially those events in their lives which have triggered grief of some sort. Private duty for the elderly often encounter manifestations of grief which their senior charges show, after having lived through some type of trauma which deeply affected them. In Tupelo and elsewhere throughout the region, in-home caregivers have learned to recognize the many faces of grief, and they have also learned how to manage such situations, so it’s a little easier for elderly patients to bear.
How we express grief
There are a number of different kinds of losses which can bring on severe periods of sadness, with deep reflection about that loss, and problems related to it. This need not be the death of a loved one, although that is certainly the most common trigger for grief, it can also be grief over the loss of good health, of personal identity, of extreme reversal of finances, or any one of a number of other causes.
Grieving consists of all those outward expressions of loss which can take on emotional, psychological, and physical expressions, and can cause suffering to the person who is grieving. Doctors have long recognized that grief can deplete a person to such a severe extent that even the simplest normal processes and tasks become abnormally daunting and almost insurmountable.
Sadness is probably the most recognizable of the emotional reactions which are expressed in the immediate aftermath of some trigger for grief. But it certainly isn’t the only way that grief can be manifested, and if you know what to look for, you can detect some of the other expressions of grief being exhibited by someone.
People who experience grief of some kind may initially go through phases of shock, confusion, or disbelief, and after that phase has passed, some other very highly stressful emotions can trigger fatigue, anxiety, episodes of crying, and sometimes even nightmares. Depending on the circumstances which triggered the grief, anger or rage may be involved as well, with an elderly person railing at his departed spouse, and wondering why they left so abruptly. Some people find it easier to be angry than to be sad, since sadness implies helplessness or powerlessness, and anger actually makes someone feel empowered and in control of the situation.
Anticipatory versus traumatic grief
There are two basic forms of grief, those being anticipatory and traumatic grief. Anticipatory grief involves a situation where for instance, a loved one may be diagnosed with terminal cancer, and there is a long period of time where the cancer worsens, and the victim slowly loses their health. In this situation, those people around the cancer victim generally have a significant period of time to get used to the idea that their loved one is terminal.
When death actually occurs, it is, therefore, no shock to anyone, but is something that was expected for many weeks or months. There may still be considerable grief expressed at the loss of the loved one, but it generally carries a lesser impact because death was expected. In the case of traumatic grief, this occurs much more abruptly, and the impact of the suddenness of the event is coupled to the event itself, tending to magnify the level of grief someone feels.
Why we experience grief
One of the biggest reasons that grief is so painful for most of us is that we have not learned how to relinquish our attachments after some kind of major loss. Bonds that form between people while they’re living, continue to exist even when one or more of those individuals has passed on, and those bonds are just left there, unfulfilled when someone has been removed from our lives.
Because we don’t typically learn how to let go of attachments that are formed in life, it’s all thrust upon us at once when someone departs, and the impact can be overwhelming at times. There can be periods of intense yearning or longing, there might be debilitating pangs of very gut-wrenching emotion, and there could be an intense preoccupation with thoughts about a departed loved one.
It’s very common for someone going through intense grief to have an empty feeling inside, as though their whole purpose in life has been taken from them, and there’s no point in continuing on. In the immediate aftermath of a major loss, this can be a very dangerous experience for the person undergoing grief. That’s why it’s so important that those people around persons expressing grief should recognize the symptoms, and provide as much support as possible during that period.
Eventually, the grieving person will realize that recovery of a lost loved one is not possible, and they will probably graduate to a period where they are disorganized but are beginning to cope with the loss they’ve experienced. When help and support are provided to a grieving person, in most cases they will eventually reorganize their sense of self and will recover and recognize that they still have a unique place in the world, even though a loved one has departed.