(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.

(110) Don’t leave me alone

Two people who each have their own point of view, their own opinion and no matter how you look at it, both are right. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when with one of the two violent emotions play a major role, like sadness, fear or pain, then it’s important that both are willing to understand the other’s point of view. Understanding, so that the bond between the two is not severed but strengthened!

Introduction

The current blog, “don’t leave me alone,” is about two people with the fictitious names Kathy and Tanya. Both have a different even opposite view of the same situation. That is possible and should be okay. But when intense emotions play a major role at Kathy … then it is important that both can talk to each other … and … can understand each other’s opinion. “And then what,” you may think. “Can’t you have a difference of opinion?” Yes, you can. But it becomes a different story when intense grief or a serious illness play a role with Kathy. Relationships can sever or even end; as with Kathy who is afraid of being left alone. Whatever you think, it happens in daily life and it “hurts people.” Nobody wants that, right?

Kathy

Kathy has no shortage of friends and, just like my daughter Anne Birgit, she’s a beautiful young woman. However, on the outside, you can’t see she’s seriously ill. And Kathy too had to cope with the necessary blows in her life with the result that the brilliant light she really is, rarely comes out.

Kathy has undergone a whole range of chemo treatments and radiation treatments. During the last consultation with the specialist, he indicated that the treatments will continue to work in her body for months before something can be said about the result.

It is already the second time for Kathy in her life that she has undergone such a series of treatments. She can still clearly remember the first series. How relieved and happy she was after she was told that she was free of tumours … that she could celebrate life again.

The results of the second series will take months to come. Until then, Kathy is not really in a party mood, let alone to celebrate life because the treatments have been completed. She can still remember the enormous disappointment and especially her anger when the tumours returned for the second time. Until then, Kathy is full of hope that the treatments have achieved the intended effect. On the other hand, she is so afraid of being disappointed again because she realizes what that will mean for her sooner rather than later.

Tanya

Like Kathy, Tanya is a beautiful young woman who is full of energy and who is always ready to throw a party as soon as there is anything to celebrate.

Tanya also had the necessary setbacks in her life … yes, who didn’t. But when you don’t know it or don’t look deep into her eyes, everything indicates that life seems to be one big party for Tanya, and she enjoys it to the fullest.

Tanya and Kathy are close friends. The treatments Kathy had to undergo for almost a year took a great toll. She was more often in bed than not and too tired to do anything. Tanya made sure that at least Kathy was eating … that is if she could keep in that little bit, she was able to eat … and … take care of herself.

When Kathy returned after all those intense treatments from the last consultation, it was just natural for Tanya that this should be celebrated. That’s what you do … it makes sense … you have completed a phase … you can go on with life, right?

Don’t leave me alone

Kathy had a different opinion. She still remembered the conversation with the specialist, the uncertainties expressed in it and Kathy also remembered the result of that first series of treatments. The enormous relief and joy she felt at the time when they told her that she was free of cancer, and a few years later the intense sadness, the anger and the fear that the tumours had returned. Now Kathy is afraid, so afraid of being disappointed again.

“What do you mean, party? There’s nothing to celebrate” Kathy says to Tanya who doesn’t agree with her. For Tanya there definitely something is to celebrate. The treatments are completed, aren’t they? And with this difference in thinking … this difference in opinion … a difference in point of view that is so logical and obvious for each of them … that it’s impossible for them to understand each other’s point of view.

don't leave me alone, sad, afraid, disappointed
Don’t leave me alone!

And at this point the relationship between Tanya and Kathy starts to wane and Kathy’s cry for help, “don’t leave me alone,” becomes a reality eventually.

But on the other hand, maybe Kathy’s fear has made Tanya as frightened as she is. Or … there is something that Tanya has been touched by or afraid of … which dilutes the relationship. Or … maybe … yes, you can think of and accept anything, but it’s not something you can get along with it.

How to proceed from here

For me it is crystal clear that Kathy and Tanya should discuss this with each other … and … keep talking to each other so Kathy doesn’t feel left alone. Yes, it’s clear to me, but do they think so too?

In my opinion, it is necessary that Kathy and Tanya sit together at the table and each tells her story about … what is felt … missed … should be celebrated … or not … or what they might be even afraid of.

It would also be beneficial to do this together with a “mediator” so that, in addition to helping in expressing each other’s words to the other, at the same time he or she can foster the understanding that both look at the same situation in their own unique way.

Both have a point, but it is important that they can understand each other’s point of view … so that the relationship between Kathy and Tanya does not gets diluted … but instead … becomes stronger.

Conclusion

It’s my experience that people start from their own opinion, or their own view they have of the another. That’s obvious, you might think, but in my opinion, it will be something completely different when that image is based on a series of assumptions. The reality regarding others is usually different and much more complex than we initially thought or assumed. That is why it is wise to keep talking to them in order to get a better understanding for each other. The same applies to people we think we know very well or for a long time.

You could also assume that everyone is correct. To illustrate this, imagine you are standing in a mountain landscape. The image that you see is determined from where you look at it. When you let everyone tell you what that landscape looks like, you will hear different stories depending on where these people were standing … in that same landscape.

In communicating with the other person, it is important that we are prepared to adjust our own opinions about the other person if that should prove so during the conversation. And there is often another bottleneck because not everyone can just do this or want to do this.

Epilogue

The core of the case used in “don’t leave me alone” is not unique. There are countless examples in which communication between people is the cause that they do not understand each other … with all possible consequences … like the one in “Farewell“.

Like in the used case of this blog in which two people each have their own point of view or their own opinion. No matter how you look at it, both are correct. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when one of the two experiences violent emotions, such as sadness, fear or pain, then it is important that everyone can understand the other’s point of view, so that one of them doesn’t feel left alone in the end!

(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.

(104) There are those moments in your life

There are those moments in your life, even after many years, that you’re back at that time … that time you had so much grief and pain … grief, because you lost a loved one … hurt, because you were seriously ill … that you thought that you were healed and it turned out that you have cancer again … or …

You have such moments when processing your grief … even though that may have been years ago. At moments like that you jump back into your grief again … you may cry just as intensely as then … it might hurt just as much as then. That is allowed, even though it may be after years, there is nothing wrong with that!

People around you … even dear ones such as family and friends … may not understand anything anymore of what is happening to you at that moment. When you are asked what is going on … and you just can’t find the words to describe how you feel at that moment … yes, then that’s OK too.

Maybe it helps when you don’t know the words … as an answer to their question … that you play this music by Lili Haydn – The Last Serenade. Tears and understanding come naturally. Maybe they understand … or maybe they feel … what’s going on with you. And maybe not. Only if you understand the emotions you feel!

Bereavement may take quite a while. That is very normal. After all, everyone mourns in their own way.

But mind you, it should not be that you linger in your grief. The raw mourning of the past must have changed into the gentle pain of the sorrow and the missing of people today. Because if the raw pain of the past … now, after years, still is present … then it would be good to seek help. Then indicate that it is about processing your grief! Many people assume that you have processed your grief by now. After years, not everyone immediately makes the connection that you are still dealing with (delayed) mourning.

(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.