It seems that the fact of death has become more and more common in my life lately. Do you suppose that it has anything to do with the fact that I am now an “older American?” But the issue of death is not reserved to older people. There have also been numerous instances of deaths occuring in the families or friendships of younger friends….and in some instances, the death is that of a younger person. In those cases the death has an impact on numerous younger folk.
It is what happens after the death that I am focussing on in this posting. It has to do with what we commonly refer to as grief. When someone experiences the death of a loved one, they lapse into a state which is called grieving.
Let’s get this straight first: everyone touched by a death grieves. The particular way in which grief occurs may differ from person to person, but there is no denying the presence of grief in their lives. Some people stuff it deep inside and go on as if nothing has happened. For all intents and purposes observers would say that the person is unaffected by the death. The reality is that the response to the death is not public, but it is there. It may not be traumatic, as in the case of the death of an elderly person who has suffered greatly through their end of life experience. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some personal reaction, even if it is relief and gratitude. Those are the signs of the grief that this particular death brings about. The sadness is tempered, and may not demonstrate itself in tears or other outward signs of mourning. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t grief. It is just unique to this particular situation. And it may be weeks, months, or years later that the sadness shows itself…and it may not be traumatic, but gentle.
It is not only family members who grieve. I chose the illustration for this posting intentionally. It is that of a nurse who is grieving the death of a patient. If that shocks you it means you may not have been paying attention. Caregivers, whether family or friends or professionals, experience a grief at the death of a patient. For professionals it may not be as intense or as long-lasting as with a relative or close friend. There is the need to get on with the job and move on to the next person requiring care. But it is not at all uncommon for professional care-givers to have a period of sadness and loss ; to me it is a sign of a caring person who has bonded with the deceased in a way that I would want a nurse, doctor, or other care-giver to demonstrate. I suspect it is also a sign of the kind of care the person received prior to dying.
The presence of grief is not limited to the death experience. People grieve at the loss of a job they loved, a move to a new community, and the sight of their youngest child standing in front of the dorm on the first day of college. These grief experiences may not be as intense as at the time of a death, but they deserve respect and recognition just the same.
Grief need not be a traumatic or negative period in one’s life. In fact, it may be a growth moment. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t filled with sadness or loss. But the way in which one handles sadness or loss reveals either a healthy process or one which requires assistance. I commend to you the work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who has become the standard-bearer for having studied and codified what she calls “The Five Stages of Grief.” They are real. People move through these stages at varying paces. Sometimes it takes years; for others it is momentary.
Photo Credit: workingnurse.com