(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.

(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.

(103) She felt herself more and more abandoned

As if it should have been the case. Somewhere, on the way, during a coffee break, I got into conversation with Kathy, a fictitious name. The blog is about her and her partner John, also a fictitious name, who struggle with Kathy’s disease.

The story of Kathy

Kathy has breastcancer and its treatment is drastic and have the necessary effects on and in her body and on the image of her body. The consequences are not only physical, but also emotional and that is also perceived by her.

The changing body image and the emotional perception can be seen as a mourning reaction… at that which was… and now is. And that applies not only to Kathy but also to John.  It is important to note that both Kathy’s and John’s bereavement and the way they deal with it is different.

Now, while Kathy is recovering slowly step by step, John has fled in his work. And at the same time Kathy is only now beginning to realize what she feels … what has happened to her … and … how should she continue with her life. Right now, Kathy feels more and more abandoned by John.

Without having spoken to John

Yes, what follows are assumptions, but could it be the case that John has all kinds of feelings deep inside him… he doesn’t know how to phrase… or maybe even… doesn’t want to put into words.

It could also just be the case that while Kathy underwent the treatments and interventions, John only could be there for Kathy and only could give his support. He understood that her body was performing “top-sport” all the time and still does, while Kathy was physically too tired to be able to do much, or maybe even something at home. In that period was primarily the crisis manager in the house; worried about how her healing process was proceeding… worried about how the children and the family were dealing with her illness… arranged the house keeping… worried how his company or employer dealt with his absence. Has John even been able to take enough time for himself to realize what the consequences of Kathy’s illness could be?

And maybe it could be that John is scared … afraid because he does not know how to deal with her illness and its consequences … and how to proceed with Kathy … together … or …

Communication

John and Kathy must talk to each other and keep on talking. Yes, it’s clear to me, but it doesn’t have to be that it’s clear to John and Kathy.

In my opinion, it is necessary for Kathy and John to sit around the table together, and each one tells the story about … what is being felt … or missed … what the worries are … maybe is even afraid of.

In my opinion, it would be useful to do this together with a supervisor, so that in addition to helping to put everyone’s feelings into words, he or she can also cultivate understanding that both Kathy and John go through a grieving process in their own way. It does not matter how you go through that grieving process and how long it takes … what matters is that mourning process is run through!

(101) As if it should have been the case

On 3 December 2018 the Mourn & Grief Foundation (the Foundation) celebrated its fifth anniversary. Yes, 5 years already, time flies.

The Mourn & Grief Foundation is one of the results of the fulfillment of the last wish of my daughter Anne Birgit, when she died in 2000 at the age of 21 years young. She wanted me to use my experience to help people to deal with their grief. The moment, when I promised her to realize her wish, I can still remember clearly, as if it had happened yesterday. But at the time I had no idea what it would mean for me personally. Let alone that I had an idea of how I could make the turnaround from managing complex multidisciplinary projects to helping people with bereavement, but I rarely shy away from challenges. A once made promise is “sacred to me”, especially when it concerns the fulfillment of your daughter’s last wish.

Just before her death in 2011, Mary-Anne, my wife, insisted on realizing our daughter’s last wish.

It lasted until 2013 though, before I had the guts to start fulfilling my promise. In retrospect, that long period was necessary. In that period I was allowed to manage complex international projects with a sometimes impossible high workload. The employees came from all over the world, with different backgrounds, languages, cultures and different interpretations of words, opinions and concepts. The same was true for the customers for whom we worked. After the death of Mary-Anne, in the years that followed, I was increasingly longer and further away from home. It seemed like I was fleeing in my work. It was not only fleeing, it was also a challenge. During that period I mainly managed people in the most diverse situations … it was also the period I was able to create my golden teams. As if it should have been the case … that period turned out to be a preparation for the last wish of my daughter Anne Birgit, the experience gained was how to deal with the most diverse people.

In the summer of 2013 I finally started writing about my grief and my bereavement. It was also the time I happened to see articles of Gijsbert van Es about bereavement in the Dutch national news paper NRC. The central theme of Gijsbert’s articles was how 10 to 15 years later people dealt with their loss of a loved one. In the run-up to the interview at the end of 2013, ideas also emerged about how I could fulfill the promise to my daughter. The result was that in December 2013 the Mourn & Grief Foundation was established and an interview by Gijsbert in the NRC was published about how I dealt with my grief 13 years after the death of my daughter and how I wanted to realize her last wish. As if it should have been the case … at that moment pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

In 2013 the starting point for the Foundation was described in 2013 as:

“The personal loss that people have can hardly be imagined other than by those who have experienced this earlier and are willing to share the lessons they have learned,  and to show that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.”

A few years later I found that the light at the end of the tunnel is not important, but the light that is in yourself. That light in yourself is important, however, and it will always bring you to safety.

In the summer of 2017 I noticed that I had arrived at a point where I could actually say that I had let go my deceased loved ones and that they could continue on their path in the universe where they were at the time. I can no longer feel their presence, but in one way or another I realize that we always stay connected. At the same time, my feeling also clearly indicated that although my bereavement  was over, but that in my opinion this would never be completed. There are still times when I think back to Anne Birgit and Mary-Anne, my sadness then feels like a soft pain.

What I also discovered that summer was that I skipped unnecessary hassle, nonsense conversations or nonsense discussions. It felt like I had to compress a completely new life on that part of my life’s path on which I walked then. It also became clear to me that using all the lessons I had learned, I could definitely continue with a life of joy, opportunity and, above all, new challenges.

Now, in December 2018, my experience and the image of that summer in 2017 have only been strengthened. Almost every day I am amazed by the new opportunities and possibilities that I encounter on my life’s path. As if it should have been the case … personnaly, it is a confirmation that the Foundation’s approach has worked for me … and at the same time it is a confirmation to me that I am working on the correct things.

In retrospect, yes easily said when most is done … in retrospect, I have become stronger … and during the processing of grief it is not just about grief … but also about love, joy and happiness.

(100) Moments that determine the course of your life

It might happen to you

Moments that determine the course of your life’s path.

Those moments just after the birth of your child or just during a conversation

Whatever the reason, the paediatrician is of the opinion after collegial consultation that your new-born child does not have long to live and gives advice not to send birth cards to family and friends. How do you cope with this as brand-new parents?

Dad, why do I always have to take those pills and need to check at the hospital every time? How do you explain to your eight-year-old daughter that this is necessary to keep her body in good condition because her life expectancy is so short? How does your daughter deal with the fact that she has not been granted a long life in this world?

Those moments where dying is eminent

We have found bone cancer that is at an advanced stage. We expect you may have another 3 months. What goes through you when you get such a message? How do you deal with this? How do you explain that to your partner and your family? How does your partner cope with such a message… and your family?

Dad, do you want to help me, I’m so tired… no matter how much I want to stay with you, I do not have the energy anymore. How do you answer your daughter’s question of 21 years young who has given everything she possibly could give and has arrived at point on her life’s path where she really can’t go any further? And how do you help her while you yourself… are deeply hurt and grieving because you can feel and see that she is deteriorating fast and will die soon.

Those moments where you get a serious warning

You are dreaming a few times in a row that if you do not go to the doctor you’ll die soon. How do you deal with such dreams? Do you just ignore the dream as pertinent crap… or are you going to see the doctor?

You consult a specialist … and at the end of the consult you are told that it would be a good idea to prepare for the worst. How do you deal with the fact that the risk of unwanted side effects or that you may even die during surgery, are highly probable?

And then the questions keep coming

And then the questions keep arriving… there seems to be no end of these. Questions you don’t know the answers to. Questions where you have no idea how to act upon.

How do you deal with the fact that your life suddenly seems to be so much shorter than you thought it would be? How do you go about the fact that your life suddenly took a very different direction than you expected? You still want to do so much in your life, but your body simply can’t anymore. How does your family cope with this? And your friends, how do they deal with it? How do you support each other? Do you get support? Who supports who?

So, who supports each other? And how?

You just can’t offer support

When I think of my loved ones, I am there for them when they run into emotional issues with which their life suddenly seems so much more complicated? Does that mean I will be there for them spontaneously? On the contrary, they need to ask for support. They should have the need that I’m there for them. It also means that, as a positive answer to their request, I need to take up my commitment to the full 100%. After all, they should’ve the confidence that whatever happens, I’m there… always!

Not everyone understands what it means to offer help

People who offer their help with the best intentions often have no idea what it does mean for them; how they can help and above all continue to give support and what it takes of (emotional) energy to everyone. Energy the other one may have less, and less … and less … and less.

If you’re willing to be there for the other person, you should be able to establish empathy and you should be able to understand what that other person is experiencing, what the other feels. That’s easily said but certainly not easily done when you’ve never experienced what the other is going through now… certainly when you’re each other’s partner. It’s demanding when your partner is dying. Much is asked of you which you should be able to offer… to keep on offering… independent on how hard that may be. You must keep going for the full 100%… with all your heart.

You should be able to discuss tough topics with each other

You should be able to discuss issues about life and death, when the other wants to do so. Issues like is there a god and if so, who is that, is there a heaven and a hell, is there life after death…  issues you can perceive from different points of view depending on your faith and culture. What is important in any case is that you should not reject the other because he or she thinks or feels differently than you do. After all, that’s personal for everyone!

Don’t act inhuman

As an outsider you may not respond lightly to the situation (e.g. that it isn’t too bad, I you know how you are feeling, my aunt had a similar disease… much worse then you though…). Something that is very certain, is that you, as an outsider, have not the slightest idea what the other person is struggling with, what the other person is feeling and how much pain or sadness that can give him or her. In short, when the other person says that he or she is in pain, is afraid, or doesn’t know what to do … then it that’s the case!

Don’t be cruel

Don’t be cruel to the other when you don’t accept, are not willing to accept or even deny that the other is seriously ill when the other says so. It’s not always the case that you can see on the outside that someone is serious ill. When the other indicates that he or she is seriously ill, he or she apparently wants to talk about it with you. That does not always mean that you want to do so too… maybe you do not know how to deal with it… or just because you’re afraid to talk about it. That isn’t necessarily bad, but in order to be honest with the other… and with yourself… tell why you do not discuss this at that moment. In that case you create clarity.

Of course, you can make fun together

Of course, you can laugh, make jokes together, make each other happy so you can create and collect a diamond. A diamond means for me a moment of happiness, of warmth, of joy, of love, of friendship. When I can create or collect a diamond during the day, I consider that day a great day.

Answers are not always available

Not all questions can be answered… so don’t make up answers… be honest to each other. That’s not always easy though, because you may get the feeling that you let the other down… but that’s not the case… your honesty and being there for other sits at a much higher plan than not being able to answer the question.

In matters of life and death, self-interest may look around the corner

The person who is dying may finds it difficult enough for him or herself. His or her opinion or faith that there may be life after death plays a major role in this. Faith and cultural backgrounds are important factors in our daily life and can be even the driving force for wars. But at that moment, the moment you are sitting with the dying person, your faith and your cultural background are not relevant… those of dying one are!

Just like the person who is dying, the loved ones who are remaining have difficult times! It is my opinion that these dear ones, if they don’t do so already, should put aside their own interests about the dying person. Don’t come up with comments like he or she should make all the effort and should try to recover… to be healthy again. Why would you ask such a thing? Because you can’t live without the other? All options were already examined by the dying because he or she knew somehow that he or she was going to die.

Give (eventually) the dying permission to go Home. Personally, I experienced what it means for the dying when you give permission to leave… permission to go Home. I will never forget the moment I saw my daughter with a radiant smile on her face when she died.

Finally

I can add many more points to above list, but it’s in my opinion that the following points are the most important ones:

If you’re willing to be there for the other person, you should be able to establish empathy and you should be able to understand what that other person is experiencing, what the other feels. That’s far from simple, in particularly when you’ve never experienced what the other is going through at that moment.

That is even more applicable when you are each other’s partner. Especially when one you are the one that stays. You have not asked for it, but you as a partner are asked to fulfill your vow to the other… “Until death follows.” You must be able to do that… determined… however demanding that is. You must keep going with… with your courage high… for the full 100%. And as a partner you do that anyway… that’s quite ordinary, isn’t it?

Whatever happens in your life, there are always forces that help you further. It may not be the way you want to, but they will help you with whatever puzzles you encounter on your life’s path. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask though!