A Few Words About Grief
A funeral is a one-time event. Grieving is a lengthy process.
One unpleasant side effect of a long life is losing people you love. Parents, spouses, close friends, siblings, or others whom you treasure most will run their course before you complete your own.
Grief comes in many forms. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (as brilliantly summarized by Homer J. Simpson) – are useful in understanding that grief is a process, but not an accurate description of everyone’s experience of loss.
For my friend Mira, the mourning for her 89-year-old mother began before she died, “when she made a conscious decision that she didn’t want to live anymore.” It was a decision totally out of character for a woman, always a fighter, who had survived the Holocaust and gone on to live an active, productive life. “In a sense, we said our goodbyes then,” Mira says. “Helping her die was part of the grieving.”
There are rituals for mourning, but they only cover the first days. In the Jewish tradition, the funeral is followed by a seven-day period when the family of the deceased “sits shiva,” remaining at home to accept the condolences of the community. For Mira, that week was too distracting for mourning. “It was a whirlwind,” she says. “It was all about implementing my mother’s wishes. Then the visiting hours were unending. People wanted to see photographs, to hear about her life, and to provide comfort. It was overwhelming.”
Only when the shiva period ended “did I really start mourning. There are still moments when I get teary. Mother’s Day was difficult. There was this feeling that something was missing.”
Meanwhile life went on. “I had to go back to work. I was there, but not fully there. I’m not who I was before she died.”
Alternative Ways of Healing
Grieving is intensely personal. Everyone has to find their own way to absorb loss and move beyond it. Those who find traditional mourning customs unsatisfying have other options. The Modern Loss Handbook by Rebecca Soffer offers platitude-free advice about going forward while honoring your memories, with exercises and suggestions for creative activities. And if you’re ready to break through the walls of your comfort zone, here are some out-of-the-ordinary approaches to consider:
Grief Yoga – a practice offered online in 30- to 60-minute sessions designed to release pain and tap into unresolved feelings.
The Grief Cruise - sail for seven days with others who are experiencing loss, and take part in arts and crafts, meditation, and a “night of remembrance.”
Splatter Painting – when language fails, grab a paintbrush and fling paint on a blank canvas and don’t worry about the mess.
Also be aware that while most people process their grief in a matter of months, up to 10% of the bereaved become stalled before they reach the final stage of acceptance and integration. This year the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) added prolonged grief disorder to its list of disorders.
How To Be Supportive
“It’s the oddest thing when someone you love dies,” writes Jan Peppler, who writes a perceptive and provocative newsletter called Finding Home. “It seems like the world should stop, if only for a moment. Everything is upside down and yet somehow the earth keeps spinning. People carry on while you feel temporarily frozen, suspended in time.”
When a friend loses someone dear, we come to the funeral, send a card, visit to offer condolences, bake a cake. Then, for us, the moment has passed, and life returns to normal. For the bereaved, it is far from over.
To be truly supportive of those in grief, try to be there for them in the weeks and months after the funeral. All appearances to the contrary, life for them has not returned to normal.