(111) Becoming aware of mourning

Becoming aware of mourning is important because in the literature it is described how grief represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the grieving needs time to restore the psychological balance.

Becoming aware of mourning

Becoming aware of mourning is important since it is described in the literature how sadness represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the griever needs time to restore the psychological balance.

In an earlier blog I wrote about an overwhelming loss immediately after a loved one or dear one had died. This blog is about the run-up to becoming aware of grief as a result of that overwhelming loss.

A few terms

The following terms are used in this blog:

Grief indicates the experience of someone whose loved one or dear one has died. Grief consists of a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes that can vary in combination and intensity over time.

Bereavement defines the loss to which the person is trying to adjust and the experience of having lost a loved one or dear one.

Mourning is the term that is applied to the process that people go through to adapt to the death of their loved one or dear one. The finality and consequences of the loss are understood and integrated into the life of the griever.

As you would expect, notions such as grief, bereavement and mourning are not limited solely to aspects related to the death of the loved one or a dear one. It can be drawn much wider. For example, in relation to a terminal illness, a divorce, the loss of work, the loss of physical functions, etc.

Why should grief be dealt with after a big loss?

Research has shown that within normal mourning, also referred to as uncomplicated mourning, much of the behaviour can resemble that of depression. However, the cause is different and so does the approach to address its behaviour. The current understanding is that while most of the depressions during mourning are transient and do not require special attention, the idea is nevertheless emerging that a persistent depression during the first year of mourning does indeed require professional or clinical attention. Seen from this perspective, it is believed mourning after the loss of a loved one or a dear one is important.

But whatever you think about it …

The choice of whether to handle your grief after a major loss is entirely up to you. You are free to process your grief or not. You may not even consider it because sadness is part of life and many in your area die. You could choose to repress your sorrow (after a short time) into the background simply by continuing with your daily life “as usual.” You could even choose to replace it with someone else shortly after your partner’s death.

“Mourning? Do I mourn? No, not at all! Should I? Why would I want to do that?” These are questions and reactions from a young man from Nigeria whose family member had died. He explained that mourning does not matter to him because death is part of daily life. After all, many people are dying around us. A reformulation of the question could also be: if it is normal for (many) acquaintances to die or disappear in your environment every day … how do you look at your loss or mourning?

How do I become aware of my grief from that great loss?

Personally, I became aware of my grief after many years. After the death of my wife, Mary Anne, I returned to work quickly, maybe too quickly. My work was intense, the teams worked all over the world and as a result my working hours were quite bizarre. However, it was a fantastic job from which I could get a lot of energy. Until that moment when I retired a few years later. I got several of those indefinable ailments, felt gloomy, could not sleep, was tired, and reading a page of a book took me days and still I had no hunch what it was about. Ailments no physician could put a finger on. Occasionally there were days when all went fantastic … at least that added a bit of hope to the little that was left of it. It all simmered a bit until during a vacation with my son, Mervyn, we suddenly had to rush to the hospital, I could barely breathe anymore. They saw it happen in the hospital, but they couldn’t find the cause. Eventually everything returned to normal and we went on with our vacation. Once at home they could not find a cause in our hospital either. However, once I started writing my blogs about grief and mourning, those “ailments” started to disappear slowly. Gradually I became aware that I had finally started processing my grief.

But could you also become aware of your mourning … instead of by chance?

In general, mourning involves a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physiological changes that can vary over time in combination and intensity. To name just a few:

Bereavement and emotions

Sadness, anger, blame, guilt and self-blame, fear, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning for the deceased, emancipation or relief, numbness, hollowness in the stomach, chest tightness, tightness in the throat, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling like you are no longer yourself, breathlessness, shortness of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, distracted and absent behaviour, withdrawn into oneself, dreams about the deceased, avoiding memories of the deceased, searching or calling for the deceased, sighing, restless, hyperactive, crying, visit places that remind of the deceased, collect or carry objects that belonged to the deceased.

Yes, there are quite a few and on top of that you must be able to be consciously involved with this matter for a while after that overwhelming loss. Maybe you suffer from absent behaviour or you have no energy to do anything. Maybe family members or friends can assist you when you are not able to do so yourself.

How to proceed

Personally, I was able to conclude that I had started processing my mourning much later. In retrospect, I would much rather have had direct help with the processing of my grief. It would have given me more peace and I could have enjoyed life more. Maybe even … it is what it is…

Anyway, you can become aware of mourning, after the death of your loved one or dear one, when you keep track of your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes from the above collection on say a monthly basis by indicating how these vary over time in combination and/or its intensity. You could draw the conclusion when:

• The combination and/or intensity diminishes: that you are processing your mourning and that you can handle the loss of your loved one or your dear one.

• The combination and/or intensity kind of persists: then it is wise to seek help for your mourning at a practice for grieving and loss guidance.

• The combination and/or intensity increases: then it is wise to seek help from your doctor as soon as possible for guiding you with your mourning. In the latter case, based on your feelings, you may have already considered the idea of ​​seeking help in an earlier stage.

Summary

This blog may be a bit on the boring side, but it is my intention to help you in becoming aware of your grief after the loss of a loved one or a dear one. From own experience, experience of others and from the literature it appears that processing of grief is important. In a nutshell, body and mind must be healed, must be brought back into balance. However, realize that that balance will no longer be the same as before. Mourning also means that you are “marked” by the loss … like in my previous blog with Kathy who rarely shows the brilliant light that she really is and with Tanja where you can see the necessary setbacks she has had when you look deep into her eyes.

It is my wish that this blog can help you with becoming aware of your grief. It is my experience that only then your mourning begins.

A final comment

There is a lot of literature available in the field of grief and mourning. The Dutch version of the Foundation’s website contains a literature overview that is regularly updated. The book that I find most rewarding to read and understand is “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”, 5th edition, by J. William Worden (ISBN 9780826134745) published by Springer Publishing Company, LLC.

(108) An overwhelming loss

An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it will be the same as before … there will always be some pain left.

Suddenly there it was … an overwhelming loss

Recently you suffered an overwhelming loss that has a huge impact on you. It seems as if you have fallen into a deep hole, that your world stopped turning, that you are so stunned you don’t know what to do anymore.

Preferably you would want to put the clock back to the time, which might not be perfect, but in which you were happy. To the time you had the job of your life and didn’t realize that the company you worked for would eventually go bankrupt. Or perhaps to the time when that loved one was with you, who was always there for you, who always supported you, and gave you courage, who was the one your world revolved around, but who is deceased now. Or maybe to the time when you felt good and healthy and had no suspicion that you were seriously ill. After many intensive treatments the doctor informed you eventually that there wasn’t any other existing follow-up or trial treatment available for you to help.

An overwhelming loss results into grief and mourning.

The enormous emotional impact of the loss can raise questions like “does my life still makes sense” or “how do I proceed with my life from here” or “what is (still) the purpose of my life?” These questions will certainly not reduce the impact of the loss, on the contrary.

Your overwhelming loss and the ensuing grief and mourning can also be intensified by the opinions and attitudes of the people around you. People who, like you, are involved with the same loss but are trying to process this in a different way within their own realities. People who may not realize that everyone is mourning in their own way.

They are custom examples, or so you wish cases, which have happened to me and my family. When you happen to recognize yourself in one of these, I hope that this blog can help you.

It starts with the acceptance that what happened … did happen

Mourning or processing grief is a process that lasts as long as it takes, and which runs differently for everyone. Before the process of mourning can begin, however, you first must be able to acknowledge that this great loss that has happened is irreversible. That you accept that there is no way back because the company for which you worked is bankrupt or … that your loved one has died or … that your illness is terminal … and that what others think of your loss and your mourning is rather a mirror for themselves than that you have to do something with that.

Your acceptance of your loss does not mean that the processing of your grief is going “smoothly.” There may be times when at one point it seems you have accepted your loss while at a different moment it seems that it is not nearly the case. You may not even be aware of that but changing the acceptance of your loss from one moment to the next may generate the necessary additional emotions in you. Emotions that can translate into reactions in your body and also in your behaviour towards others. The same applies to the people in your immediate environment who are processing their grief too. It does not make it any easier.

And that was just the beginning. Yes, mourning requires a lot of energy. Jung said it back then, mourning, or processing your grief, is hard work.

Then come the questions, the life questions, on which answers are needed

Answers to life questions such as “does my life still make sense” or “how do I continue with my life” or “what is the purpose of my life” help in accepting the reality of the loss. In my blog I cannot give answers to such questions because the answers are influenced by who you are, by your background and culture, and how you were formed during your life.

“Mmmmm …” I can hear you think … “but how can I, as a reader, get answers to these, although basic, but for me personally … important questions?”

In my opinion, it is important that you do not end up in a negative energy spiral, because the longer it takes the harder it will be to reverse it again. But not everyone recognizes or acknowledges that to themselves.

It is also important to adopt a positive attitude, so that problems become opportunities, lessons become obstacles, and your worries are just a part of your life.

My point of view is also that people can change … you too can change … using your heart and all the unconditional love that is available in our universe.

Easy to say but doing and continuing to do so is quite something else. It takes a lot of energy and above all perseverance. But not everyone is willing to devote that.

How do you tackle that … dealing with loss?

It reliefs when you are distracted from that overwhelming loss. For example, you have children who need your care, time and attention. Or you have people in your immediate environment who depend on your help. Or you have a job. But not everyone has that.

It is easier when you do away old things. When you are open to other ideas, other signals, other observations. But not everyone can do that.

It reliefs when you start recognizing that your fear has to do with your thoughts that tell you that something is not possible, but that when you can think in opportunities and challenges you can develop further and create new opportunities. But not everyone wants that.

It helps when you dare to leave the trodden path, and while you struggle over the path that is unknown to you, you eventually discover a new path with new and more possibilities than you ever were able to dream about. Opportunities that become a new reality for you. But not everyone dares.

It reliefs when you ignore what others think you should do, but that you listen to what your heart tells you … that you listen to your feelings. But not everyone has the courage to do so.

A perspective…

To provide you with some support while processing an overwhelming loss, I can offer you some perspectives from my own experience.

When you at length go through your mourning with falling and getting up again, you discover at a certain moment that the raw grief you experienced in the beginning has changed into the soft pain of sorrow. That the pain has become a viable and essential part of you … it has made you who you are at that moment.

It may even be the case that you have changed so much that people around you wonder how that happened, while you wonder why you did not start the activities you are currently engaged in much earlier in your life.

In retrospect, you may consider that the great loss you have experienced was necessary to put you on the path of life you are currently walking on … that you can be proud of yourself on who you have become … on what you do now in and with your life. What another thinks of that is like a mirror for the other and not relevant to you.

In retrospect you may still vaguely remember any negative aspects and moments before and during that great grief, but later you remember mostly the beautiful things in your life. It gives freedom in your head, in your mind … it relieves.

Looking back in time…

An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it will be the same as before … there will always be some pain left.

For that job of your life you’ve lost, eventually another occupation came in its place that gives much more satisfaction. For the loved one you lost and of whom you are missing the intimacy from human to human … maybe it even still hurts deeply … you are somehow still connected with the other from heart to heart. And because of that (terminal) disease you eventually learned to live and enjoy moment by moment.

Dear reader, I have learned to approach life in a positive way. That did not happen by itself. Two intense mourning processes contributed to this. It was hard work and there were times when I no longer knew how to continue in life or how I could find the answers to my life’s questions. But when someone asks me now, “if you would have the choice with the knowledge you possess now, to completely relive your life? What is your answer?” then I would answer wholeheartedly with … Yes!

I hope this blog is useful in helping you while processing your grief.

(106) The shadow side of mourning

The loss of a dear one

The shadow side of mourning? Is there a light one then? Everything is relative, you could see it as the difference between dusk with a brilliant sunset and the oncoming night as the shadow side.

The mourning process about the loss of a loved one can become complicated, without talking though about complex mourning. No, about a form where many things play a role in the periphery of mourning. That I call the shadow side of mourning. A form that can lead you to deferred mourning and everything in between.

Mourning, imaged as a sunset

When you consider a sunset as an image for a mourning process, then mourning is limited to the processing of the loss of a loved one by you and by you only.

The image of the sunset is not just about the (sometimes) difficult moments in your life … but also including those great moments that you shared together. It’s about a life, that when someone asks you if you would be willing to live that life all over again … including all those sad and great moments … your answer would be an immediate yes!

It maybe is a meagre consolation, but the deeper the grief the greater the love that existed between you. At the moment of realization, it doesn’t console you though … because the other one isn’t there anymore and you can’t give him or her a hug or a kiss.

The shadow side of mourning

The shadow side of mourning is about a loss that can become an even greater one by aspects that play a role in the periphery of the grieving person.

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Besides the loss of your loved one, you will also have to deal with aspects that are the result of how others manage the same loss. A disagreement between family members during the preparations for the memorial service could cause this … or just after that. Or the handling of the inheritance became an issue … and consequently, family ties could be lost. The so-called “glass door” effect for mourners results to the loss of friends. After the memorial service of your dear one, almost everyone promises to invite you. Only a handful honour their promise though.

The loss of a dear one might even lead to anger. Anger because you are so sorry that your last words didn’t reflect not even close what you felt for the other. You may feel abandoned because you now must deal with all those things and issues your loved one always did. You may find out secrets about your dear one that were hidden from you all the time. It could be even that your anger turns into hatred.

You may feel compelled or even forced to take over the position in the company of your loved one. A position you never wanted to have because you don’t have the knowledge or skills. But now you should do so.

When the shadow side plays an important role in your loss, then mourning becomes convoluted. It’s clear though, like everyone else, that only you can process your mourning. But that is not to say that a helping hand can’t be offered … a helping hand in the form of support or guidance.

Finding support … but how?

Support and guidance should primarily be directed to raise awareness and the understanding of what is happening to you (in other words, to understand the parts of your puzzle) at that moment; and what parts are important to you; and what could be done to resolve those parts of your puzzle.

Secondly, you should find out what parts of your puzzle could be resolved by yourself or by somebody else. And, not to forget, why and for which items of your puzzle support or guidance would be required. As normally would be the case knowledge and experience are important factors, but with grief or bereavement trust is the most important factor. The rule of thumb that should be used is: “When in doubt, out!”

Personally, I find it important that the grieving person should become self supporting as soon as possible. That means that all assistance or guidance provided is only of (very) short term nature!

Afterword

Mourning is not just about the loss of a loved one. Parallels could also drawn for mourning as a result of a treatable but incurable disease up to and including a malignant terminal disease.

(105) Modern Heroes

All who tackle difficult situations, or a life-threatening illness. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t… but they keep going!

This time the blog is devoted to modern heroes. It’s about all those who fight to turn the tide of the situations they’re in … or fight the serious or life-threatening illness they have. It is a battle of perseverance. Sometimes it works … sometimes it doesn’t … But despite all the setbacks, they keep going. They are incredibly beautiful and especially powerful people who are a shining example for all of us! Yes, they are certainly heroes!

Heroes … others sometimes call them stars. You don’t notice them! You don’t hear them! And yet you come across them every day.

What follows is not a fairy tale, it’s a harsh reality

As an example, there was the daughter who asked her mother if she could give her the name of a modern hero for her school project and also explain why he is a hero. It was not a question that the mother could answer immediately. The mother asked me if I could help her and in a whim I had an answer for her.

The mother was divorced and had to take care of her children on her own. The alimony was not really regularly paid to her by the father. Well, there you are. What now?

In order to survive, the mother decided to start her own business with a service that suited her. For that it was necessary to follow a few courses. She had to … in her opinion … and she managed it with a lot of perseverance.

Just when the company started running, the mother became ill. The diagnosis she eventually received was that she had cancer. It was a form that was treatable and benigne … but still … there was the fear.

The answer to her question was that every time the mother looked in the mirror … that in my opinion she looked at a hero. Despite all the difficulties, all the grief and the fear if things would be fine … she had managed to start a business so that she could take care of herself and her children … and that she had recovered from her illness, although it was still vaguely present in the background. That makes her in my eyes … a hero! Easy to say afterwards … but you need to realize that the mother had to go this long path all by herself.

Around us there are many more heroes like her

You meet heroes every day. These are people who are seriously ill and, above all, who don’t want to show that to others … don’t want to talk to others about it … not wanting to burden others with their grief. If only for avoiding sympathy, or to prevent others from consciously or unconsciously avoiding them … because those others are scared or don’t know how to cope with it themselves.

All these heroes … as if they have a short fuse … quickly notice whether the interest of the other person is meant … is real! They quickly see throuh all kinds of stories that make no sense.

These heroes also avoid conversations where other people say what they have been through, is it not with themselves then with somebody else but worse … many times worse. Sometimes it even goes so far that in their opinion our hero exaggerated. Whatever you think of this… it’s never a competition!

Many people consciously or unconsciously avoid our heroes. Maybe it’s because the other person’s illness is scary … and one wants nothing to do with it … or one comes into contact with a side of life that one is afraid of … a side of life where maybe death plays a role … a side where very different norms and values are important than success, beauty and status.

A personal opnion… or yet it isn’t

Personally, I think it is sad that people avoid these heroes. That way they miss the opportunity to meet … incredibly beautiful and above all powerful people … people who are a shining example to all of us!

For that reason alone I am eternally grateful to my daughter Anne Birgit for putting me on the path of the Mourn & Grief Foundation. Yes, forever … because no matter how much energy, pleasure and gratitude I have received from my clients and teams in my former professional life, that is almost nullified by the attention and gratitude I receive from our heroes.

To all these heroes … Chapeau!