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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Grieving Spouse--Raging at the Universe

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Most people recognize C.S. Lewis as the author of the Narnia series of children's fantasy books or for his non-fiction Christian faith books.  However this small treasure of a book documents the torment that he suffered after the death of his beloved wife.  This book was written half a century ago but the raw feelings of grief are as timely today as they were when C.S. Lewis wrote the book.

This book is a compilation of long-hand written notebooks that C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife's death from a long battle with cancer.  In his many writings he questions his faith, how God can be a good deity and allow this kind of pain, and screams out to the universe in agony.  In the end Lewis comes to terms with his grief and his faith and found that " bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love."
I highly recommend this book no matter what your loss.  To read how eloquently and at the same time at a primal level that Lewis is able to express his anger and sorrow is an important lesson for any griever.  It's okay to have these feelings, there's nothing wrong with you, and Lewis is testament to the fact that someone can question everything and survive.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Knit one, Grief too

Ann Hood was a published writer prior to the unexpected death of her daughter, Grace, at age 5, from a severe strep infection. After the death of her daughter, Ann found like many of us have, that the problems with concentration during the early stages of bereavement made it almost impossible to read or to write. When those are the tools of your trade, or in my case reading was one of my favorite things to do to relax, and you are no longer able to perform them it is more than a little startling and unnerving. I wondered if I would ever be able to read a paragraph again. Ann wondered if she would ever write again.

Ann was no stranger to grief. Her brother, her only sibling, drowned in a bathtub when Ann was a graduate student. Soon after her sixty-seven year old father died after a six-month battle with lung cancer from fungal pneumonia. Shortly after her father's death, Ann experienced a miscarriage. Still even with the experience as a bereaved sibling, bereaved daughter, and finally her miscarriage, nothing prepared Ann for the extreme emptiness she experienced after Grace's death years later.

In her memoir recounting her daughter's death and the aftermath, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, Ann talks about how people woudl often suggest that she write things down, express her feelings on paper, and this increased her anxiety with her inability to write and with their continued suggestions. Ann eventually found comfort in learning how to knit. Some people have written about the meditative effects of knitting and its almost healing quality.

When Ann was able to write again, a year and a half after Grace's death, she took her new interest in knitting and her knowledge of grief and blended them into a fictional book called The Knitting Circle. The book chronicles a story of a bereaved mother whose marriage ends after the child's death and the mother's discovery of knitting and a group of friends who offer each other the support and love that they each need.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Road Map for the Grieving Parent

The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff.   Schiff was formerly a reporter, she has written two books on grief and has lectured extensively. She is also a bereaved parent. Her son, Robby, ten, died from complications after heart surgery. Her book is considered a classic guide for bereaved parents and has been recommended for years. In matter-of-fact terms, Schiff discusses the hard stuff and offers help for those who are suffering. She includes stories about her own journey and those of other bereaved parents. Her book is divided into easy to digest chapters discussing subjects such as bereavement and guilt; bereavement and marriage; bereavement and siblings; bereavement and religion; and the far-reaching bereavement and the rest of your life.

Schiff talks about taking small, positive steps even during the beginning stages of grief. Schiff gives examples for these small steps such as cleaning, cooking, or putting on make-up. She cautions that the steps will naturally cause pain, and the individual may not feel like attempting anything else for a period afterwards, but that done in small doses it does move the person forward in a positive manner.

Schiff's book ends with hope for the bereaved parent that there is a way through the sorrow. She notes that the bereaved parent no longer fears the unknown because they have faced the worst and survived. I can relate to her statement that the thought of living for any length of time after the death of my son was an awful thought. However, just like Schiff, as the years have gone my life has moved forward and I have managed to move through the seemingly unendurable pain of the beginning stages of grief to a time when there can be laughter and expectations of future events again. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name? Grief, Loss, Bereavement

There is a popular train of thought that all losses we experience throughout our lifetime affect the way that we handle the next loss. In this aspect a loss can be simply changes we experience such as the feeling of being in a strange motel while on vacation, moving out of the home you grew up in, or moving to a different apartment or home. All of these are rife with adjustments or what some might call subtle grief that require changes in how you think and behave.
The question then is do these small losses prepare us--positively or negatively--for the bigger losses in life?  Or is this too much of a simplification and taking away from the real pain and trauma of grief and bereavement after the loss of a loved one?  Research conducted in 2003 found that participants who had experienced loss, humiliation, or other adverse life events were more likely to have a significant depressive episode later in life.
In the past few years the subject of grief and loss has become more prevalent in the mainstream media.  There has been much more discussion on talk shows and in print about the whole grief journey and this may have helped people to have a better understanding about this life event.  On the other hand there may be a over-emphasis and use of the terms grief and loss.  After all can we really compare the death of a pet with the death of a loved one?  Grief is an individual and highly personal reaction and is based on many internal and external factors.  Perhaps the best thing we can do as a society is to honor the griever by not having expectations about what is "normal." 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

No Typical Loss...the real message of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

When you mention grief and loss many people immediately think of the five stages.  This was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' claim to fame and also her curse.  There was so much misunderstanding about these five stage that she spent much of her time re-explaining her original premise. 

On Grief and Grieving was written during the time that Elisabeth was anticipating her own death and in fact she died before the book was published.  David Kessler, who had worked with her on a previous book, had the privilege to again co-author a book with Elisabeth. He was present at Elisabeth's death and was profoundly affected by her death and her life.

The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are not a linear progression as explained by Kubler-Ross and Kessler.   The stages merely are a means to help explain the process of grief but not meant to be used as a blueprint for everyone. The authors pointed out that grief is individual and messy. People have to be supported where they are in their grieving process not by some arbitrary time-table.