Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's the Big Hurry? Stop pushing the bereaved

"Lola copes"  - Author photo
In a 2013 survey by the online magazine, Slate, 8,000 men, women and late teens grieving the loss of someone close, were asked about numerous factors related to their experience.  93% of survey respondents noted:
"interacting with others is generally awkward at best, and painful and isolating at worst." 
It's akin to feeling naked in public or, a teen angst I can relate to--being seen during a really bad acne outbreak. Grief can be so raw, painful, and unpredictable in when it will flare up feverishly. Trying to fulfill "normal" responsibilities and the expectations of others is draining to the point of sometimes feeling hopeless or unhinged.

In journals on bereavement, in support groups and online forums, the grieving are distressed by the push to get over it. Slate survey respondents commented:

  • "They would get tired of my sad mood and need to talk about it, and say I was 'wallowing' or I should move on." 
  • "People are very supportive for the first couple of weeks, but then they move on. … It makes you feel guilty to continue to mourn when others are tired of dealing with it."

No wonder it's a lonely road 

After a few encounters with friends, family, and co-workers' boredom, impatience, and jovial coaching, it feels safer to stay home, alone. Many people--but not all--find relief in peer support settings specific to their loss such as The Compassionate FriendsTAPS, for military families, or AfterGiving for grieving caregivers.

 In their analysis of the Slate survey findings, Dr. Leeat Granek, a critical health psychologist and grief researcher, and journalist/editor Meghan O'Rourke, returned to the medical branding of a grief journey that doesn't hurry up and press the Reset button on life:
"perhaps the most important finding in the data had to do with recovery from grief. Here, the answers suggested that loss takes longer to recover from than we typically imagine. More than one-quarter of our respondents reported that they never went back to feeling like themselves after their loss. Another quarter said they felt normal only "one to two years" after the loss."

Is grief a disease?

"This is of particular note since the fifth edition of the DSM (or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) [which was due for 2013 release]...may propose that a mourner can be diagnosed with "complicated, pathological, or prolonged" grief if he or she is still grieving intensely six months after a loss.  from "What is grief really like?"
Granek and O'Rourke highlighted an important human variable: "What our respondents suggested (which rang true for us) was that for many mourners, recovering from a death of a loved one can take a year or several years. For others, "recovery" may never happen at all."

Thankfully, this label was squashed by public and professional outcry, but the waters are still muddy, and doctors remain on alert for 'disease' in their assessments of grieving individuals. In his editorial for PsycheCentral.com, "How the DSM-5 Got Grief, Bereavement Right," Dr.Ronald Pies defended,
"Clinical judgment may warrant deferring the diagnosis [of major depressive disorder, MDD] for a few weeks, in order to see whether the bereaved patient “bounces back” or worsens. Some patients will improve spontaneously, while others will need only a brief period of supportive counseling — not medication."

Can we please stop pushing the bereaved? 

The Condolence Coach reminds readers:
'Heart Keys' acrylic on canvas
 Suzy St. John 
  • It is not up to you to heal the grief.  But your note will be a balm and help in ways you may not know. There are documented health benefits to feeling cared about; a condolence note delivers comfort and often, hope, because it can be re-read in any hour of need. 
  • Forget what you think you know about grief. There are many myths about grief and rather than give advice, your friend or co-worker just needs you to listen.
  • It is never too late to write a condolence note. Last month, waiting for an oil change, I struck up a conversation with another customer and discovered she was related to a former employer. She informed me that one of his adult children had died the previous year. I found an address and sent him and his wife a note. There is a 'higher reason' this information reached you now. Use it!
  • Anniversary notes are deeply appreciated. As I explained in my post When Little Birds Chirp, writing to the bereaved on the occasion of their loved one's birthday or death anniversary is not a painful reminder. 
  • These principles apply to pet loss, too! Acknowledge the wonderful friendship but do not discuss a 'replacement pet'. 
    Thank you for caring!

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