Coping Strategies for Mourners
I am normal I am told
I seem to be falling apart
My attention span can be measured in seconds
My patience in minutes
I cry at the drop of a hat
I forget to sign the checks
Half of everything in the house is misplaced
Feelings of anxiety and restlessness are my constant companions
Rainy days seem extra dreary
Sunny days seem an outrage
Other people’s pain and frustration seem insignificant
Laughing, happy people seem out of place in my world
It has become routine to feel half crazy
I am normal I am told
I’m a newly grieving person
~ Anonymous ~
Your journey through grief has phases, which we pass through much like a commuter train makes it’s stops along a complete run. Often these stops do not warrant the same amount of time as others. Of course, no two people grieve the same way but these typical responses may help you as you find your way.
Your disbelief prevents you from accepting what is true; you expect to wake up any minute from this nightmare. It simply can’t be true and you can’t cry because you don’t believe it.
Shock helps temporarily. It softens the blow, leaving you dazed and numb. You go through the motions like a robot and your emotions are frozen.
Crying, sometimes spontaneous sobbing and other times quiet tears, gives you release. It gives deep emotions an outlet. Give yourself time for this physical release.
You may not expect your physical symptoms. You’re not surprised to feel emotions but you may be unprepared for the myriad physical responses so prevalent in those who grieve. You may sleep or eat too little or too much. You may have physical aches or pains and numbness or weakness. Usually the symptoms fade, but check with a doctor to rule out other causes.
With your denial, you tend to separate fact from feelings. You “know” the person has died, yet in your heart you cannot yet accept the death. You forget: you imagine your loved one away for an extended trip, you expect that he will call or she will come in the door, you search when you are out shopping.
You question why did she have to die? You repeatedly ask, yet you don’t expect an answer. Your question is a cry of pain.
You repeat your story over and over again. Repeating helps you absorb the painful reality.
You may need self-control to fulfill your responsibilities, do your job, or rest from the pain. You need to moderate your self-control, because although it can give shape and rhythm to your grieving, constant, rigid self-control can block healing.
When reality sets in, you may feel that you are worsening because you acknowledge that the death really did happen while other supports may diminish as family and friends expect for you to improve.
Your anxiety increases and you are frightened of losing control or growing crazy.
You panic about the future, money or other people who could die.
Confusion tampers with your sanity. You can’t think and you forget your thoughts mid-sentence. You are disorganized and impatient with yourself.
You tend to idealize and remember only good traits, as if your loved one was perfect. You find it hard to accept your living loved ones who are not-so-perfect.
You identify with your loved one to stay close to him. You may copy his style of dress, hobbies, interests or habits. You may carry or wear a special object or piece of clothing.
Sometimes you feel relief-you’ve had a good day! You’re so much better. You can laugh and have fun without feeling guilt. Enjoy these moments when they come; you deserve a rest from your pain.
Your depression may return periodically, sometimes when least expected, and surprise you because you thought you were better. You may hurt so much you don’t care about anything. Everything is an effort.
Your expectations are important: you may feel that you aren’t grieving “correctly”. Your friend was better in a few months-why aren’t you? It is better no to compare. Expectations-your own or others’- may add to your burden. Like most bereaved people, your self-esteem and your self-confidence may temporarily fall far below normal levels.
Often no matter what you are doing, you are preoccupied with your loss, thinking of nothing but your loved one.
You continue to feel intensely angry at yourself, others, your loved one or God. You may feel irritated by everyone and everything.
Then you feel guilty because you were angry. You are tortured by your regrets. You keep going over real or imagined mistakes in your relationship with your loved one and you feel that no one else can understand.
You are isolated and lonely. You are empty and you want to withdraw from family and friends-or they are too busy with their own lives.
Sometimes you despair. The agony is unbearable and you feel that you won’t be able to survive. You feel hopeless and don’t want to go on living. You want to be with your loved one.
Your sadness seems inconsolable. Unhappiness pervades your life and you miss your loved one’s presence desperately.
You feel helpless and unable to help yourself cope with grief. You feel powerless because you cannot control it.
You see other couples together and you envy their love. It makes you feel keenly what you have lost. Your frustration builds as your fulfillments are gone and you haven’t found new ones yet. Nothing interests you.
Temporary feelings of bitterness and resentment, especially toward those who are, in som way, responsible for your loss are natural. Habitual bitterness, however, can drain energy and block healing.
Life may seem like constant waiting. Your struggle is over, but your zest has not returned. You are in limbo, exhausted, uncertain and life seems flat. But somewhere inside, you struggle to believe you will get better-you keep hope alive, the good days begin to out-balance the bad.
You never stop missing your loved one. Particular days, places, and activities can bring back the pain as intensely as ever.
But you are able to make a commitment to life. You recognize that healing is a choice and you decide to actively begin building a new life for yourself.
This means taking the initiative to seek involvement.
Some days you hang on to your grief; it is familiar and it keeps you close to your lived one. Letting go seems like forgetting so you are reluctant to so. But you begin to let go gradually.
Finally peace comes and you can reminisce about your lived one without reactivating the pain. You feel able to integrate these changes into the new you and face your own future.
Life opens up and has value and meaning agin. You can enjoy, appreciate, and anticipate events. You are willing to let the rest of your life be all it can be.
Where would you go?
While finding counselors is not difficult, finding one that fits your personal style, needs and family can be. The following is a list of procedures you might try for locating counseling assistance:
- Call local mental health department
- Call any community agencies that may be near you
- Look in your telephone book in the yellow pages
- Call your local crisis line
- Call your Church, Doctor, or Hospital
- Check with your local Hospice
- Call local funeral homes
- Call neighbors or relatives for recommendations
- Use your computer and Internet to locate services near you
What if I do not have the money for a counselor?
Counseling services are sometimes free. Check with the sources listed above to see what might be available, but remember services that are free are often limited to time availability and counselors who are willing to donate their time. If you want more choice in whom you work with and when you see them you may have to locate funding for getting help. Community agencies should be able to help you with this search. You can also try local churches, charities or even libraries for additional information about what might be available in your community.
What should I expect from a counselor?
Every state has criteria for registering counselors who collect a fee for services. It is important that you call your local mental health department to get a list of the registration criteria for your county or state. They may even have a list of registered counselors who live and work locally. Once you contact a counselor, for your benefit and safety ask for a disclosure statement about their services before beginning counseling. If they do not have one you may want to work with a counselor who does.
Counselor Disclosure statements should include items such as:
- Client rights during counseling
- Counselor information regarding values, education, training, experience, techniques and methods.
- Service information clarifying fees and costs, accountability, making appointments, billing practices, record keeping and confidentiality.
What benefits are there to counselling?
Counseling is the process of one individual (or more) helping another individual (or more) to improve their present way of thinking and behaving in a problem or crisis situation. These helpers are often called Counselors. Counselors are people who have special knowledge, skills and experience that benefit the people receiving the help, who are usually called clients.
Benefits for clients to become involved in the counseling process can include any or all of the following:
- having someone listen to their concerns without over reacting or being judged
- developing new perspectives of their problem situation
- becoming more aware of how trauma can affect people’s lives
- engaging in learning activities that help them to develop new strengths
- understanding essential dynamics of interpersonal relationships
- getting help with communication breakdowns
- learning about the stages of the grieving process
- having a place to collect their thoughts and to vent their feelings
- obtaining assistance for developing goals and action plans
- learning about additional resources within the community for obtaining assistance
- acquiring interpersonal skills that can help them to cope more effectively
- doing all of the above with confidentiality
When should the whole family go?
The death of a loved one can pull families together or it can make them become more disjointed. If there were strong feelings of resentment and anger before a death those feelings can become more noticeable in the months after the funeral. Families that have a high level of trust between its members will help each other with much of the grieving process. These families pull together and check on each other as the months go by. Families that had communication problems and trust issues before the death will most likely still have those same problems afterwards, unfortunately even to a larger degree.
Having an outside source or counselor work with the whole family can be valuable for reestablishing the communication and trust families need to grow in positive ways. It is really important that the helping provider have training in family work or what is often called family systems training. Working with the dynamics of the relationships within the family is just as essential as working with each of the individuals is. This type of family assistance can help to turn a negative family event into a positive growth experience. While the pain is still there individuals learn how to live with it rather than be devastated by it.