Good Grief!

By Kevin J. Rice


[ Summary: Grief has 5 normal, predictable steps. People who deny grief prevent healing. Exploring feelings = faster healing, a better life.]

Note: The below document is my speech to a Toastmasters club about "What Is Grief?", given in 1997 to the West Lakes Toastmasters club, Clive, Iowa.

Keywords: Grief, counseling, death, coping with death, stages of grief, constructive grief, healing

My topic today is Grief.

It was Inspired by an acquaintance who was recently told by her family that her father died a year ago. They told her now because her brother died last week and she would find out anyway. She a little distraught.

Over Easter, I went back to Chicago to visit my mother. She happens to be a Methodist pastor, and she had sufficient books to in her study to help me prepare this speech.

Grief is a Natural process. Everyone has griefs, both large and small:

Those Religious people here might recognize the biblical phrase "Grieve Not" - itís real, but really says, "Grieve with hope".

The first Study on grief was by Dr. Erich Lindeman, Harvard College, Scholarly paper "Symptomatology and Management of Acute Grief" published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in the 1960ís. The grieving person has to "extricate himself from the bondage to the deceased and find new patterns of rewarding interaction." The study found differences between 'normal grief' and 'morbid grief':

Dr. Lindeman then described 5 things he saw in acute grief. These are now known as the "Five Stages of Grief" and are relatively well known in the counseling realm; at least my mother the pastor has talked about them since she was in seminary as something everyone knew or should know. So: here goes.

The 5 Stages of Grief: (traditional)

  1. Somatic Distress: Physical pain, usually in your heart or forehead. (Note: I havenít ever grieved by finding my big toe hurt a lot. Thatís another problem, relating to the pickle jar you were just holding)
  2. Preoccupation with the image of the deceased.
  3. Guilt
  4. Anger
  5. Loss of patterns of conduct
Important things to remember:
  1. People donít always move between them in order;
  2. Everyone doesnít have each stage in an equal amount;
  3. People can be in more than one stage at once.
Thereís some new thinking on this subject. Many books now refer to there being 10 stages. The Ten Stages of Grief (developed over last 10 years)
  1. Shock: Shock is separation from reality. Temporary shock is okay, staying in a dreamworld forever is not. Shock allows people to function in very stressful situations; rational thought prevents emotional processing and lets you do routine, necessary things.
  2. How to Help: Shock is okay; let people be there. Let them do emotional work at their own pace unless it really is disruptive. Donít force emotions on people. Grieving consists of finding new patterns. Let grieved people do stuff - otherwise the new pattern is "doing nothing"

  3. Emotional Expression: crying, yelling, screaming, etc.
  4. How to Help: Let Men Cry. Let Women Cry. Donít say, "It's alright." It isn't. Say, "I'm here", or "Hmmm" or "yeah." Whatever it is, allow that feeling and encourage it. Expression is important. If youíre embarrassed, relax your barriers a bit and allow the expression to happen. You're helping them by just listening.

  5. Feeling Depressed and Lonely
  6. How to Help: Listen to them, invite them over and do what they want to do - talk, or not talk. Let them FIND A NEW PATTERN to their lives. Save them money by letting them say stuff to you instead of paying bucks for therapy. Basically, allow people to talk out stuff without denying that the emotions exist.

  7. Physical Distress - sleepy, sometimes getting sick.

  8. Panic attacks: being paralyzed with fear, a fight or flight instinct takes over. This may happen in the grocery store or bathtub. It's okay.

  9. Guilt: Usually over not talking with them more. VERY often in children it's thinking it was their fault that a person died.
  10. How to help: guilt is normal. Feel free to confront the realism of them wishing they'd made different choices, but acknowledge the feelings involved.

  11. Anger: Feeling comes from 'youíre causing me pain and Iím pissed'. Anger and frustration are closely tied. Frustration is obvious - they're dead and you can't interact with them anymore.

  12. How to Help: Allow this emotion by asking about it, saying it's okay and normal and you'd be there, too.

  13. Resistance to returning to normal life: It denies importance of what just happened. But, life goes on.
  14. How to Help: Donít avoid talking about person or event. Talk about them as you would normally. "Oh, Dave would have liked that.", "Remember when Dave did that? That was funny." How would you talk about a great grandparent that died? Note that close family might grieve faster than the friends - a widow may want to talk normally about it and even enjoy talking about something her lost husband just did that was funny, stupid, loving, or just normal.

  15. Hope Returns

  16. How to Help: talk about future plans in a way that acknowledges that a hopeful outlook is a return to a normal life.

  17. Acceptance / Affirmation of Loss: accepting the loss as real, coming to terms with the emotions.

So, hereís the book, "Good Grief." Other ones are, "On Death and Dying", and any of a number of them in the bookstore. They're helpful. Read them.  

Time / Emotion Relationship: TIME AND EMOTIONS HAPPEN IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE BRAIN. If you had an extremely strong event happen and you have that emotion bottled up inside you, that emotion is still there, and lasts FOREVER until you let it out. So, let it out, and be done. This is a widely commented on and researched fact; think on it and find power in it.

Also, it can be very, very bad for your health to deny emotions for a long time period - it can lead to cancers and other stress-related illnesses. So let it out. Examine yourself for your emotional holes and try to see what's in them. Talk about them.

In summary, know that grief is Normal. It has stages. Let those stages work. If you don't seem to be having any of the stages, think about why. Let others do their steps at their own pace, but be supportive if you can. Thanks!

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