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:
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.
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.