Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Grieving Process

I read everything I could of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' work. It helped understanding the Five Stages of Grief. I grieved my marriage, old life, colleagues, community, etc., when I moved here to Muskoka to care for failing parents. They always insisted they were 'fine'. It became a family joke. People would phone and as to visit, knowing something was up, but mom wouldn't let them. She did phone and say goodbye to old friends; not that they knew it at the time, and asked a family friend to do her funeral at the right time. Otherwise, neighbours enabled their ADLs and IADLs, and allowed them to remain in a home they could not care for.

The stages are not a continuum, they are *not* exclusive and you can be experiencing any, some or none during stressful situations. Life events can either rip apart or bring a family closer together. I have heard stats that 80% of families with autistic children experience divorce. In this situation, one grieves the child you expected to grow to an adult. From my teaching experience I believe this to be true. Psychosocial and emotional issues tend to divide a weak family.

The stages are:

  1. Denial - "I am just fine."; "This can't be happening to me!"
  2. Anger - "Why me?" "It's not fair!" "NO! NO! We'll find a cure for you!"
  3. Bargaining - "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything, can't you stretch it out? A few more years."
  4. Depression - "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die . . . What's the point?"
  5. Acceptance - "I can deal with what the Universe throws at me."; "I can't fix it, I may as well prepare for it."
Reach out.
Ask if you need something.
There are many people out there who can help. Bereavement is a difficult and individual response to grief. Do what you need to do for yourself and your family. Reach out to friends, family members, your faith community, or professional therapists or bereavement counselling groups.

If you belong to any organization, from a religious group to secular, or other groups such as the Cancer Society, or Veterans Affairs Canada, the AIDS Bereavement Project of Ontario, many offer support at this difficult time. There is a Bereavement Ontario Network, that offers many services, and you would be wise to contact such a group in your area.

Bereavement is not limited to losing a human loved one. In fact, there is a grieving process for those losing a job, a home, a marriage, empty nest syndrome (loss of childhood), or a pet. The most important thing is to remember that everyone deals with grief and mourning differently, in different stages. Talking or writing about your emotions helps.

For those in my situation: grieving for a loved one in palliative care, you may experience anticipatory grief. As I watched my father's health deteriorate, I slowly came to terms with his progress. As I cared for him, fed him dinner as he slowly was unable to feed himself, and take care of his daily needs, I could predict what was to happen, and mentally prepare for his eventual death, his funeral and our next steps. In my mother's case, she denied her ill-health, and robbed my father, friends and family of preparing for the grieving process. We saw her gradual decline as she ate only a tablespoon of food 3 or 4 times a day, and slept for 10 minutes, about every half hour.

Recommended readings:
  1. Kübler–Ross, E. 1997. Death: The final stage of growth. Carmichael, CA: Touchstone Books.
  2. ———. (1998). The wheel of life: A memoir of living and dying. Carmichael, CA: Touchstone Books.
  3. Kübler–Ross, E., & Kessler, D. 2005. On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York: Scribner.

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