Impelled by her recognition that the deaths of several young men from Revelstoke over the past 18 months have had terrible impact on many people in Revelstoke, long-time local counsellor Tuulikki Tennant began a series of weekly discussions about grief and recovery.
Current writer Laura Stovel attended the first session last week and will follow the rest of Tuulikki’s public session through the next month (you can find her first story here). As an addition we hope will benefit readers, The Current is pleased to offer Tuulikki’s original notes.
Revelstoke has had a particularly rough year. We are a small, deeply inter-connected community and hearts have been hurt and touched repeatedly simply through the sheer number of young people and middle-aged people who have died, many of them unexpectedly.
There has not been time to completely re-group emotionally. Some are psychologically bracing for another blow and aren’t completely feeling safe emotionally in the face of what has happened. People are trying to “make sense” of it all.
The Experience of Grief:
Loss and the accompanying grief is one of the most powerful and challenging human experiences one can undergo.
The intensity and duration are reflected in the significance of the loss, one’s attachment, circumstances, individual coping strategies, pre-existing levels of stress, frames of reference and beliefs and views about life. (We, in Canada, particularly try to apply the concept of fair.)
Definition of Words usually referred to in Loss:
- Deep sorrow, sadness, distress
- To feel grief
- Suffering the death of a loved one
- the state or fact of being bereaved
- an act of grieving
(these definitions from Webster’s Dictionary)
To experience grief and mourning are a necessary part of recovering from the death of a loved one and other losses in your life. I see it as love turned inside out. The depth of grief reflects how deeply you loved someone. The old notion that you grieve for a few months, then get back to yourself and your life as before is not true. Grief is an ebb and flow, an up and down. It can be a sudden wave in a calm time. It can surprise you. What triggers grief can surprise you. It can lead to a cascade of losses related to the primary loss. It can open old wounds not quite healed.
Grief will heal you and if you really give it room and care for yourself it will grow you.
What I know to be true both personally and professionally is that if you care for your heart, feel, speak your experience and take the actions that support your healing, grief does not need to become the centrepoint place from which you live for the rest of your life.
For me what I have discovered and seen over and over Love is.
You will always love the person who has passed if love is what existed between you.
Everyone is unique. Everyone is their own particular constellation of strengths and vulnerabilities. Our experience of grief will be unique and what works for one may not work for another. There are however common threads through this experience and this will be our focus this evening.
Experience of grief and how it is expressed varies according to age – child, youth, adult.
(for information about children and grief, check out the good summary at www.about.com)
- factors that intensify grief
- factors that complicate grief
- duration of the grief process
- has been compared to the physiological equivalent of being burned
- there are physical, emotional, cognitive (thinking) expressions of grief
- acute grief reaction/normal grief behavior includes:
- (1) feelings
- (2) physical sensations
- (3) cognitions or thinking behavior
- (4) behaviours – what we do
Manifestations of Normal Grief:
- Anger (this can be one of the most confusing feelings and often at the root of challenges in grieving) – anger comes from 2 sources (a) sense of frustration that there was nothing one could do to prevent the death (b) from feelings of helplessness, feeling unable to exist without the other, anxiety – anger can be displaced and directed towards another and blaming them for the death (of course in the case of murder there is clearly a responsible other) if someone can be blamed then he/she is responsible, and therefore the loss could have been prevented – blame can be directed to health care professionals, God, family members
- Guilt and self-reproach
- Anxiety – range from a slight sense of insecurity to a full blown panic attack – anxiety comes from primarily 2 sources – fear that one will not be able to survive without the person who died and heightened sense of personal death awareness or the death of another close to you
- Emancipation – feelings of freedom if the relationship has been deeply challenging/hurtful/abusive
- Hollowness in the stomach
- Tightness in the chest
- Tightness in the throat
- Oversensitivity to noise
- Sense of depersonalization – things do not seem quite real
- Breathlessness – short of breath
- Lack of energy
- Dry mouth
- Sense or presence
- Disruption or shattering of beliefs about the world, how it works and how life moves
Important to notice the statements we make to ourselves about our experience
- the death of a loved one can evoke a crisis of belief whether that be how one believes life and the world works and is structured to a spiritual crisis of faith and challenge to one’s belief in a higher power
- often people feel that they are going “crazy” and accurate knowledge about grief goes a long way to normalize and validate one’s experience and decreases the stress and anxiety about what it happening
Factors that can Intensify Grief:
- age of the individual who has died – the loss of a child is one of the most overwhelming losses
- suddenness of the loss – when there is no time to anticipate or brace for a death the impact can be greater
- the numbers of losses or stresses already being experienced – Revelstoke has had a particularly rough year
- depth of the love attachment
Factors that can Complicate Grief:
- unresolved or partially resolved previous losses
- a conflicted or ambivalent connection or attachment to the person who died
- a strained or rifted relationship that was not resolved prior to death
- pre-existing mental health/emotional issues
- sudden deaths (sense of unreality about the loss, guilt – “if only . . . “ thinking, blame, involvement of medical and legal authorities – especially heightened with homicide, helplessness, agitation, unfinished business, need to understand)
- cause of death is suicide (often compounded by feelings of anger, shame, fear (of own self-destructive impulses), rejection and guilt – themes of “Was I part of the reason?”, “Why did they do it?”, “Why didn’t I prevent it?”, “How could he/she do this to me?”)
- cause of death is homicide (trauma response – post-traumatic stress)
- when death is fairly certain to have occurred but the person is not found
- when you have either witnessed or been part of the experience in which someone died or attempted to save and could not (again a trauma)
Duration of Grief:
- old notion was 6 months to a year – simply not true
- grief is a fluid process that ebbs and flows – at times can be overwhelming and at others times one can have a long period of calm and ease before a wave of grief rolls over you
- the first year is generally the hardest – when all the first experiences without the loved one occur
- the loss of a child can evoke sadness in your future when “milestone” events, such as graduations, weddings, etc. and other possible future possibilities do not manifest – seeing the vision or dream of your child in the life experiences that will not come to be
Purpose of Grief:
- an expression of the loss of our very real human love connection with one another
- a return to love
Information provided from:
Tuulikki Tennant MSW RSW
J. William Worden, author of Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner