This article got me out of bed tonight. It insisted that it needed to be written….. and so, it is.
I have worked as a Thanatologist since the seventies. It is a bereavement specialist and I have learned valuable lessons from my patients. The most important is that people should allow themselves to grieve. Some do not.
There are many reasons. Mainly it is regarded as a sign of weakness, when in fact it is of love.
There have been some beautiful writings on the subject, and these are two of my favourites.
My child died.
I don’t need advice.
All I need is for you to gently close your mouth,
Open wide your heart/
And walk with me
Until I see light again.
I work with parents who have lost children to death in many ways and they all agree this says it all. Bereavement workers need to read it and live it. I cannot bring a child back and that is what is desired, so I just listen. Ninety percent of my work is listening.
As so many writings are, this author is unknown and if anyone knows who it is I would be grateful. Because of my own grief, this is my favourite.
I heard your voice in the wind today and I turned to see your face.
The warmth of the wind caressed me as I stood silently in place.
I felt your touch in the sun today as the warmth filled the sky.
I closed my eyes for your embrace and my spirit soared high.
I saw your eyes in the window pane as I watched the falling rain.
It seemed as each raindrop fell, it quietly said your name.
I held you close in my heart today. It made me feel complete.
You may have died but you are not gone. You will always be part of me.
As long as the sun shines.
As the wind blows.
As the rain falls.
You will live inside me forever. For that is all my heart knows.
I find that exquisite. There are so many, and they touch my soul.
There is more to grief than just death. There is loss which is vast.
To name but a few, there is divorce, war, leaving one’s country, moving, children going to a new district, addiction, devastating diagnosis, failing to graduate, abuse, a loved one joining the military, loss of friendship, and so many more you could probably add.
There are significant differences in grieving. In a relationship for example, no two people grieve in the same way. It doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting. It means they either show it or they don”t. Some cry, others are angry, some are silent not quite knowing what to do. Some are exposed to stupid people, stupid being my worst curse word.
Let me explain.
For some reason people think they have to say something when there has been a tragedy. Sometimes, people phone me and ask me what they should do in these circumstances as they feel compassion but are at a loss as to how to handle the situation. Usually, I tell them to do nothing other than be there.
Here is what NOT to do. I am compiling a list of these to be published in a book, the proceeds of which will go to The Compassionate Friends, an organisation for parents who have lost a child to death. Are you ready?
- “What a good thing you have other children”
- “Oh, you are young. You can get pregnant again.
- “They are in a better place.”
- “It gets easier”
- “ Call me if you need me” (they aren”t going to phone you).
- “My ******** went through the same thing and she did thus and such.
- “Well, this is what I would do if…………………..”“
I have a tattooed arm. It is John’s memorial arm. Someone asked me, “What do you think John would say if he saw your arm?”
I said, “Well, if he were alive I wouldn’t have it, would I?” Duh!!!!
You should……………..let it end there. I read recently someone suggested that the word “should”, needs to be eliminated from the dictionary. I agree. I tell people to stop “shoulding” on themselves constantly. There are so many others.
So, what can one do? Phone them. Ask them if they feel like having company. Would they like to go through photographs together. Do they feel like going out for a drive. How about lunch. These suggestions have come from those who grieve. There are many more and sometimes people put their foot in their mouths – you can always apologize.
I suppose the best suggestion is to say, “I really don’t know what to say except I feel sad for you”.
Also, mourners have to give themselves time to be. What I mean is to be honest about what they want. For example, when friends or family would visit and I wanted to be on my own, I would say, “I need some John time”. They got it. Sometimes it is necessary to take care of oneself in that time of deep grief.
I have lost count of the people I loved who are no longer in my life. Being a child of war, I became familiar with loss and grief at a very early age. Some of my little friends were killed by Nazi bombers. Some members of my family were in the military, and some didn’t come back. One was murdered. There was no support at that time. Today there is.
Some years ago, a chaplain in an English hospital was involved with three young women who had suffered still-born babies. They all sat around a kitchen table, just the four of them, and The Compassionate Friends was born. It is in every country in the world and a place I suggest when I first get a call before they come to me. There are specific meetings. The Parents of Murdered Children. Parents of Only Children. They have their websites.
My “unexpected gift” was John. He was diagnosed in 1999 and I took care of him until 2015. He went through so much and finally went into Hospice at home with the Earth Angels (Hospice workers). I was prepared for his death. In fact, I welcomed it because it was time the suffering was over. However, I wasn’t prepared for life without him and never will be. I share with others how I deal with some aspects of my grief. On his birthday I send him a card in the mail and have flowers. Same for our anniversary. You have to express your grief, your way.
In the case of cancer there is Gilda’s Club named for Gilda Radner. Not a treatment place – a place of love and support. I am honoured to do a workshop twice a month there on gentle humour. They are incredible people and very funny. That is a support no one puts together for a diagnosis. Scientifically it has been proven that laughter releases the endorphins in the brain and heals. Brilliant.
One of my mentors was a woman called Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross. She was a Swiss born psychiatrist and on coming to this country was appalled to find cancer patients were not respected. I can remember years ago when cancer became an open challenge, people thought it was contagious and treated those as lepers. Thank heavens it isn’t like that today.
Dr. Kubler-Ross went about changing that behaviour. She wrote a book called On Death and Dying. Brilliant and she has levels of grieving which have broadened over the years but remain the basis of comprehension.
Denial and isolation. Pain and guilt. Anger and bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. There are people who have extended these to seven rather than five. They are no different. There are specific challenges with some of them. Depression. It is important to know the difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is painful grieving about a situation that is known. Depression is a psychiatric illness that needs to be treated because there appears to be no reason for it. It just is and has to have help with therapy and medicines. There is no shame in this – it is an illness.
Another one is acceptance. I had a patient whose 13 year old daughter had been taken by a man posing as an off during police officer. He raped this child and drowned her in a little water. When her mother came to see me she said, “I will never accept what happened to my daughter, so now what”.
I said, “How about adjustment?” She went with that. One step at a time. Easy does it. Reach out to trusted people with whom you can talk, cry, yell. It took me a long time to pick up that phone. I do now.
There is another loss people do not acknowledge. I am connected to the Livengrin Foundation in Bensalem, a drug and alcohol recovery rehab. I have been with them for forty six years and recently have begun to lead a grief group for outpatients. Going through the doors of Livengrin, they leave their best friend behind, the friend that has numbed feelings of any kind for years. This is a loss. This is a massive change. This is painful.
For many years I have been literally screaming about grief and addiction. Only Livengrin has acknowledged it. The patients really don’t put it together until we start working with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s steps and they can recognise their grief with the changes that have to be made. Otherwise, it’s a revolving door.
It isn’t just giving up drugs or alcohol. They have lost their families, their homes, their jobs and some have lost everything. Some are facing prison – this is all pain, powerlessness. Many people are unsympathetic, not realizing that addiction is a fatal illness. They relate to the grief work because they understand what has to be done.
Then there is my hero – or one of them – Dr. Viktor Frankl whose book Man’s Search for Meaning saved my sanity years ago. He wrote it in Auschwitz concentration camp where his parents, his wife and brother were slaughtered. He wrote, “PEOPLE MAKE CONSCIOUS DECISIONS ON THE WAY THEY FEEL.”
I didn’t know that. This little book sold over forty million copies and is still going. It isn’t an easy read – it was in a camp – but the message is clear and encouraging. I still carry my original copy from 1968, which is falling apart. I have another copy he signed.
I am a passionate woman in things in which I believe and at times find myself almost walking on the ceiling. When John was alive and that happened all he would say was, “Get the book”. It worked every time.
The woman who brought it to me originally was relentless on me reading it. I refused three times as it was in a camp, and I had enough of that information during the war. When I did – it was an instant recognition of what has to be done. I call it my bible and still refer to it.
So, recovery comes in all forms. It saddens me when people are in denial. It hurts them and they don’t realise it. One thing I have learned about self-help groups is they are based on love. They are supportive because they know. I belong to several and when I fell, they were there for me, constantly calling to check up and see if I needed anything.
One last thing and this might be the most important thing I have written.
Tell people you love that you love them. I lead Celebrations of Life and am always sad that the people who have died do not hear the beautiful things people say about them. So, say them now. People have argued with me, saying “Well he/she knows I love them. I married them didn’t I?”
Never assume anything.
Every day of those almost 27 years we said I love you. When I speak with my children and friends on the phone, the conversations always end with “I love you”. Never assume anything. It is so simple. I love you.
So, I say to all my lovely readers. I LOVE YOU. I say something positive to people every day even if it is something like thank you. So simple.
Please feel free to explore Dr. Kaye’s recommendations:
Gilda’s Club (Local Chapter)
BEAUTITUDES FOR THOSE WHO COMFORT
Blessed are those who do not use tears to measure the true feelings of the
Blessed are those who do not always have a quick ‘comforting’ answer.
Blessed are those who do not make judgments on the bereaved’s
closeness to God by their reaction to the loss of their loved one.
Blessed are those who hear with their hearts and not with their minds.
Blessed are those who allow the bereaved enough time to heal.
Blessed are those who admit their discomfort and put it aside to help the
Blessed are those who do not give unwanted advice.
Blessed are those who continue to call, visit and reach out when the crowd has
dwindled and the wounded are left standing alone.
Blessed are those who know the worth of each person as a unique individual and do
not pretend that they can be replaced or forgotten
Blesses are those who realise the fragility of bereavement and handle it with an