Grief and bereavement

Bereavement entails the loss of a loved one. Grief entails the deep and poignant distress caused by the loss. And, mourning entails the more public and ritualistic expression of grief. It has been suggested that the common emotional reactions are intense and, not uncommonly, irrational. Having been there, I can readily attest to the accuracy of the descriptions. In grief, there is a messy mixture of sorrow, misery, emptiness, and loneliness. There is a general feeling of numbness, and a vague sense of awareness of what is going on around oneself. For widows and widowers, life may not seem worth living and one may look forward to one’s own death. (This can be true of one who loses a child, too). Crying, depression, difficulty sleeping, difficulty in concentrating, lack of appetite, and reliance on medications: sleeping pills and tranquilizers, increased risk of illness, accident, depression, and contemplation of suicide are not atypical. The most painful time may be after the funeral when relatives and friends depart, leaving the person to grieve alone. A common impulse is for survivors to assess blame on someone or something. The eventual movement to finding meaning starts, in part, by preserving memories of the loved one.

Several have proposed stages of grief. They include: Shock and disbelief wherein one cannot grasp what has happened. This is followed by a developing awareness and acceptance of reality, a display of emotion, a “pining” phase characterized by a pronounced preoccupation with the deceased, and finally restitution and recovery. It is suggested there is some degree of inner peace and well-being followed by “complete” resolution as measured by a person’s ability to “realistically and comfortably remember both the pleasures and disappointments of the relationship”. Sounds clinical and only partially describes my experience. I do not believe “complete” is possible or desirable. That would mean I would never think of those I love. That is beyond comprehension. I would not wish to lose the sense of pleasure and enjoyment of my memories. The attached chart is close to describing my experience. If you have lost a loved one, especially a child, I bet you have some appreciation for the chart as well.

For those who have never lost a loved one or are unsure of what to do or say. Simply listen. Allow the expression of grief. Empathize. Avoid inappropriate responses and comments. It is not comforting to hear that the one you love is in a better place, it was God’s will, what would expect with such behavior, time will heal, or any number of unhelpful responses. If you do not know what to say, say nothing.
If someone loses a spouse they are called a widow or widower. If a child loses their parents they are called an orphan. What term is to be used in the loss of a child? Viloma is the term assigned to a parent whose child has died. Vilomah essentially means “against a natural order”, “putting a name to the unthinkable”, as in, “the grey-haired should not bury those with black hair”, as in “our children should not precede us in death”.