A Message from the Executive Director about Grief and Mourning
Dr. N. Karen Thames, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
I wanted to address something that is very difficult to talk about: how we cope with death and loss in the community. I have addressed the loss of identity and the loss experience in living with a chronic illness. However, we have not approached the topic of coping with our loved ones dying. It is tragic that we have lost many friends in this community for various reasons. The shock of it all never seems to go away. Eventually, we accept what happened and try to put the pieces together. However, every anniversary of their death, every birthday, every trigger of a memory with that person seems to bring that sense of shock back all over again. I want to tell you that every feeling that you are having is normal. You are not weird for mourning or grieving. It is not strange. I know that people tell you to move on. But, moving on does not hold the same meaning in reality as what is sometimes projected onto you.
There are several ways that we may react when we lose our loved one in the community:
- We ask “WHY”: From my observations and my own personal experiences, this is one of the first questions that pops into our minds. First, we want to know why that person had to die. Was it part of a bigger master plan? We are left confused. The initial shock feels intense. For many of us, that question provokes us to take action and seek answers. We want to know who was at fault if anyone. Was it the medication he/she was taking? Did he/she die in his/her sleep? Did the doctors not act quickly enough? We speak amongst ourselves in the community. We just want answers and we want them as quickly as possible to make sense of it.
- Fear: The death of our loved one or friend elicits anxiety. For me, I know that every time one of my friends has died of an adrenal crisis, I become afraid, initially. I think about, on some level, how that could have been me. I think, “how many times did I not take enough steroids to replace my Cortisol until right before it could have been too late”! It frightens me. And sometimes, for days afterwards, I am even afraid to go to sleep for fear that I won’t wake up. This is not unusual. People may tell you to move past it. However, just know that this is a common response.
- Survivor’s Guilt: We may feel guilty. This is also a common phenomenon. We may feel a sense of guilt that we have gotten better, physically, on some level. Or, even with the bad days, you have more good days than bad days. Ultimately, you feel bad that YOU are still alive! “Why am I still here and the other person is not!” The guilt will subside but then may resurface on that person’s birthday or the anniversary of his/her death.
- Five Stages of Loss: There are Five Stages of loss. During grieving, we experience these stages. Remember that these stages are not linear, meaning that they don’t have to occur one after another. They can also happen simultaneously. You can experience more than one stage at one time. And you can go back to the different stages more than one time and at different times. Even if you get to acceptance, you might go back to the other four stages. Just to recap, these are the five stages:
- Denial and Isolation- Not wanting to talk about it and avoiding others
- Anger- Angry at God, yourself, medical system, or even the deceased
- Bargaining- Believing you could have changed the outcome
- Depression- Crying uncontrollably, withdrawing
- Acceptance- Accepting what is
Remember these things as you cope:
- It is OK to mourn the loss of your loved one. Others who try to rush your process may mean well but you are allowed to grieve
- Do not rush the process or think there is a right or wrong way to grieve. Take your time. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. You may come to a point of acceptance, for instance, but then feel very sad during an anniversary
- Practice mindfulness-Be wherever you are at that time. Allow yourself to be present with whatever emotion you are in without judgment.
- Allow yourself support- Get support from your church, family, friends, loved ones, and lean on each other in the community for support!
- Work through the guilt-You DESERVE to be here! Acknowledge that it is common to have survivor’s guilt. But, you can’t stay in that place of feeling bad because you made it! Acknowledge that you belong here!
- Reach out to a professional if you need to! The EPIC Foundation has a comprehensive list of therapists in your state. Additionally, we are also here to provide you with support.